The Character of the Prodigal Son
by Glenn Conjurske
Because I have so many books, some people like to accuse me of having
learned my doctrines from books instead of from the Bible. No matter if
that were the case. Truth is truth, whether we learn it from a book, or
a preacher, or directly from the Bible. If there is anything wrong with
learning the truth from a book, then it must be equally wrong to learn
it from a preacher, and I ought not to preach, nor anybody else to listen
to me. Nor ought any man to write, nor anybody to read what they have
written. But the fact is, the charge is false. I have learned very little
of my doctrine from my books
----almost nothing, really. I have
often been delighted to find those doctrines, which I held from the Bible,
to be taught in the books of the old men of God, but I learned them from
the Bible, before I read the books. The case is different, however, with
what I have to say here ----at least with the kernel of it. This
I learned from the old evangelist Bob Jones ----not from a book,
but from a recorded sermon. The parable of the prodigal son had been one
of my favorite scriptures for years, but I had always begun with the prodigal
in the far country, regarding the early part of the parable as only setting
the stage. But Bob Jones gave me a nugget of truth which I had never seen,
by pointing out that the prodigal was no good while he yet remained in
his father's house. He had no character, and the proof of it lay in the
fact that he was discontented in a good place.
There are various reasons why a man will be discontented in a good place,
and none of them good ones. Three things usually make men discontented
in a good place. Those things are lust, pride, and ingratitude. The lust
which hankers for something which the good place does not afford us, the
pride which thinks this place does not give us our due, and the ingratitude
which fails to appreciate the good which we have, or those who have provided
it for us. All these we see in the prodigal son. These three things made
him discontented in a good place, and these three moved him to leave it.
First, lust. There were no harlots in the father's house. There were no
rollicking, frolicking good times. There was no drinking to excess. There
was no freedom from restraint. For such things he lusted, and after them
he must go. The lusts of others may seem more noble than those of the
prodigal, but may be as base in fact. There is no opportunity for ministry
----that is, no place of distinction, no opportunity to shine
in the eyes of men. Base lusts often parade under noble professions.
Next pride. These discontented souls always feel horribly slighted. No
one gives them their due. They are overlooked and passed by. Nobody makes
anything of them. Nobody asks them to preach. Nobody puts them into office.
I have known some who were discontented in a good church for no other
reason than this.
Finally, ingratitude. The prodigal son is the prototype of an ungrateful
soul. He owed all that he had to his father, yet he cared nothing for
him. He cared for nothing but his own personal advantage, and in order
to procure it he would despise and forsake his father, and break his heart.
His father was nothing to him but the means of his own advancement, and
if his father failed to advance him as he thought he deserved, he would
leave him in a moment.
I intend to further develop the character of the prodigal a little further
along, but first I must turn aside and speak a little of how we ought
to deal with such souls, for it is certain we shall have plenty of them
to deal with. Discontent runs rampant in modern society, and as much in
the church as in the world. How ought we to deal with such souls? There
are two courses open to us. We may either pamper and humor them, in order
to keep them from flitting off to the far country, or we may deprive and
deny and thwart them, and so precipitate their departure. The modern church
seems largely given to the former of these ways. Give the discontented
soul an office, and he will be happy. If you thwart and cross his pride,
he will depart for other climes, but if you feed that pride, he will stay,
and thus you may keep him on your membership roll, to swell your numbers,
and avoid the reproach which is generally cast upon a church when people
leave it. If you deny his lusts, he will depart for greener pastures,
but if you feed those lusts he will stay. Therefore the churches must
bring in modern music, and games and recreations, and parties and movies
and dancing, and who can tell what the end will be? And so by humoring
these discontented folks, we destroy not only their own souls, but the
work of God also.
The plain fact is, the father did nothing to keep the prodigal at home.
He gave him, of course, all that was good, but he brought no harlots or
gaming tables to the house.
But I return to the character of the prodigal. His pride and lust and
----indeed, his real moral worthlessness ----are
all manifest in the audacity of his request. Give me the portion
of goods that falleth to me!! Was ever presumption greater than
this? The plain fact is, the portion of goods that falleth to me
was a pure fiction. No goods fell to him while his father lived. He had
no right, no claim, no shadow of a title to anything his father possessed,
until his father died. But pride is always presumptuous. It always supposes
itself slighted. Give a proud man just exactly what he deserves, and he
will be incensed at the indignity offered him. Neither does it ever enter
his head to consider whether he is worth any more than he is given, but
he will always blame and censure and resent those who fail to give him
what he fancies his due.
Neither does it ever enter his head to wait upon God for his desires.
Of patience he knows nothing. He must demand his due, and if that fails,
he will compass sea and land in search of it, and treat every man with
contempt who fails to minister to his purposes. He never stands on the
ground of faith, any more than of patience, but must grasp what he desires
now, and grasp it himself. And the blame for every failure to attain his
ends will be laid on other shoulders than his own.
Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me! Such was
the presumption and audacity of the demand, that this prodigal ought really
to have been ashamed to look in the mirror. We dare say his betters were
embarrassed to be associated with him, yet he felt no shame. He was only
asking his due. Such is the pride, and such the audacity, of discontented
The father's response to this audacious request may seem strange. And
he divided unto them his living. No earthly father with a grain
of sense would do so, but the father in the parable represents God, not
man, and his action represents the ordinary way of God, in giving abundance
of good things to the worthy and the unworthy alike. For he maketh
his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just
and on the unjust. This world is the scene of man's trial and probation.
God therefore gives them rope enough to hang themselves, and abundance
enough to squander in riotous living.
The shamelessness of this discontented soul next appears. And not
many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey
into a far country. This was doubtless his intention from the beginning,
but he must wait a few days after his audacious request, to give a little
appearance of decency to his departure, like the man who procures the
death of his wife, and waits two or three weeks before he marries his
lover. All of this shamelessness and audacity is the natural fruit of
the pride which lies at the bottom of his restless discontent.
His ingratitude appears at the same time. He was happy enough to receive
his father's goods, but he cared nothing for his father. He would spend
his father's goods in riotous living in the far country, and never waste
a thought on the broken heart of his father back home. Pride and ingratitude
are bosom companions, for the more a man values himself, the less he values
others. I have studied discontented souls, and I have seen pride and ingratitude
and unbelief and impatience growing rampant in their hearts, all aiding
and abetting each other.
And wherever these evil passions prevail, The grass is always greener
on the other side of the fence. These passions warp the vision,
and the man who is controlled by them sees only the evil in the good place
in which he is, and only the good in the evil place to which he would
go. This was obviously the viewpoint of the prodigal ere ever he left
his father's house, and it is the view of many another discontented soul
in a good place.
But the case of such souls is actually worse than this. They not only
see the evil where they are, and the good where they would go, but they
always magnify them both. They magnify the bad where they are, and slight
the good, while they slight the bad over there, and magnify the good.
But even this is not all. It helps but little to magnify nothing, and
they must therefore imagine evils in the good place, and imagine good
in the other.
Nor does this process end when they take their departure. Having left
a good place, for no better reasons than pride and lust and ingratitude
and impatience, they must now justify their leaving. Their own conscience
is doubtless uneasy with their place in the far country, and with the
motives which brought them there. It must require something resembling
a miracle for the prodigal to leave his father as he did, and dwell as
he did in the far country, and yet have no qualms of conscience about
it. To quiet the misgivings of his own mind, therefore, concerning his
own position, it must become a passion with him to make the far country
look as good as he can, and his father's house as bad as he can. I have
seen the same in discontented souls in the present day
so that I have learned to predict that this would be their course. They
leave the good place praising it, acknowledging that all they have they
owe to their father, affirming they would by all means stay if it were
not for such and such little difficulties, but in a few months or a year
their tune is changed, and the longer they remain away, the more evils
they find to condemn in the place they have left. Strange that they never
saw all those evils when they were under their noses, which they can now
see so plainly from a distance, but then their mind was stifled by the
evil influence of that place, and now it is enlightened. Yet the real
fact is just this: having left a good place for a bad, they must justify
their move by making the good place look bad, and the bad place look good,
and so they are compelled to call good evil, and evil good. All this I
have seen in these discontented souls, in some measure before they take
their departure, but much more so afterwards. The whole business is nothing
but the most glaring hypocrisy, but dear self must be justified at all
And this may bring us to the fundamental error of discontented souls.
The evils with which they ought to deal lie within themselves, but they
will never dream of dealing with those. Their pride moves them always
to blame something outside themselves. The fact is, they are discontented
entirely because of their own pride and lust and impatience and ingratitude,
but they attribute all their discontent to the place they are in, and
especially to the persons who are over them in that place, whose authority
determines their lot. These must therefore become the objects of their
continual censure, while their dear self is never censured at all. They
are oppressed, denied, deprived of their due, slighted, undervalued, mistreated,
and they must be off to better climes, where people know how to value
them as they deserve.
Now as a general rule the best thing to do with such discontented souls
is to let them go. We ought not to drive them away, but we may do well
to hold the door open for them. The far country will cure them better
than ever the father's house can do. They may spend the days after their
departure praising the far country and condemning the father's house,
but this is hypocrisy
----much more on their tongues than in their
hearts ----and unless their pride knows no bounds, they can hardly
help but feel the reverse of what they speak. There is at any rate a good
hope that when they are perishing with hunger in the far country, they
may come to themselves ----come to reality, to see things as they
are, and see themselves as they are. And then how changed! The boy who
a while ago thought himself too good for the father's house, who thought
himself slighted and undervalued and oppressed, can now think of nothing
but I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
And with a right view of himself comes a right view of other things also.
Now the far country and the father's house are reversed. Now there is
bread enough and to spare, even for the lowest servants, in
that oppressive house, under the roof of which he could not bear to abide.
Now that glorious far country is but perishing with hunger.
Now it is I will arise and go, not from my father, but to
And yet observe, there has not been one iota of change in the father,
nor the father's house, nor in the far country. They remain just what
they were. All the change has taken place in the prodigal himself. His
pride is turned to humility, and he who felt himself slighted and oppressed
before is now willing to take the lowest place. His lusts and impatience
and ingratitude are all banished. His audacity is all gone, and in place
of his shameless presumption, in demanding the portion of goods which
he fancied to belong to him, he is now a humble suppliant, begging for
the privilege to earn a little of what he before expected as his right.
Make me as one of thy hired servants. Now he thinks only,
I am no more worthy to be called thy son, when in fact, for
the first time in his life, he is worthy to be called a son.
Would that all the proud and discontented souls would thus come to themselves.
Alas, some of them seem utterly incurable. Though they perish with hunger
for years, yet they never come to themselves. They learn no more lessons
from their failures than from their disappointments. The blame always
belongs to somebody else. They flit from place to place in the far country,
ever full of hope for greener pastures in the next place, always condemning
the place for which they lately expressed such hopes, as soon as they
have tried it, and usually treating with contempt the persons who made
that place what it was, but never dreaming of finding any fault with themselves,
nor of returning to the place which they never should have left. They
are just what the prodigal was ere he left the father's house, and such
My Two Great Windfalls of Understanding
by Glenn Conjurske
Solomon admonishes us, in Proverbs 4:7, Wisdom is the principal
thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
This I have made it my business to do for more than a third of a century.
I have inclined my ear to wisdom, and applied my heart to understanding.
I have indeed sought her as silver, and searched for her as for hid treasures.
I have compassed the land in quest of the best of books, denied myself
many other things to buy them, labored day and night to read and digest
them, and diligently sought for wisdom by prayer, by meditation, by observation,
and by inquiry. I have studied God and studied man, studied sin and studied
holiness, studied the world and the devil, studied what is, and what has
been, and what will be, and what ought to be. And I may say without ostentation
painfully conscious of how little I know ----that God has blessed
my endeavors, and the result of this course has been a gradual increase
of understanding, so that I now have a good stock of the commodity which
I have sought, the same as the man has who has spent the past thirty-five
years in the pursuit of mammon ----though I have as little of money
as he probably has of wisdom.
But in addition to the gradual increase of understanding which is the
natural result of the course which I have diligently pursued, two real
windfalls of understanding have come to me, both of which made my previous
knowledge to appear to be mostly ignorance. It was as though I had been
ascending a mountainside by slow degrees and great toil, my vantage point
little by little growing larger, till I reached the peak, and suddenly
there burst upon my sight such a prospect as I had not dreamed of before.
This has happened to me twice, the first time when I was somewhere about
twenty-five years old, and the second when I was forty.
The first was more than a quarter of a century ago. It was then that I
saw plainly that the two statements of the apostle John, that God
is light and God is love, are the two great pillars
of revelation. They tell us what God is, and this is the foundation of
all else that is. These are the two sides (and there are but two) of God's
moral nature, and the understanding of this made the Bible a new book
to me. I saw that the whole book is in its essence an exposition and illustration
of these two statements. Light is figurative, and stands for holiness,
while love is literal, and self-explanatory. Law and grace, judgement
and salvation, heaven and hell, the goodness and severity of God,
all these are but so many manifestations of the light and the love which
comprise the nature of God. His holiness mandates repentance, while his
love elicits faith. The true religion which James describes is but a mirror
of these two sides of the nature of God, to visit the fatherless
and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the
world. This is love and holiness.
I saw that much of the false theology in the church is the result of exalting
either side of the nature of God, at the expense of the other, and that
the truth is only to be learned by giving full weight to both sides. The
Bible cautions us not to turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
Those who turn aside to the right exalt the holiness of God at the expense
of his love, resulting in a harsh, bigoted, or legal theology. Those who
turn aside to the left exalt the love of God at the expense of his holiness,
resulting in softness, compromise, and antinomian theology. I saw the
great dilemma which sin has interposed between the holiness and the love
of God, his holiness calling for the judgement of the sinner, and his
love calling for his pardon. I saw that the holiness of God demands an
eternal hell, while his love provides an eternal heaven, and that there
never can be any middle ground between the two.
I saw too that as God is light comes first in order, before
God is love, so the holiness of God is first revealed and
first maintained. The law comes before the gospel. Repentance comes before
faith. God labors in all his dealings with man to maintain both his holiness
and his love, but where one of them must be sacrificed, it will always
be his love. Holiness is a necessity, love a luxury. While love has desires
exceeding strong ones ----holiness has claims. Even the love of
God, though it yearns to the last degree, cannot forgive without an atonement,
nor without the repentance of the offender. God will never maintain his
love at the expense of his holiness, but where he must, he will maintain
his holiness at the expense of his love. Heaven is a place where the holiness
and the love of God are both maintained. In hell his holiness is maintained,
in the punishment of the obstinate, at the sacrifice of his love. There
is no third place ----no place where his love is maintained at the
expense of his holiness. There never can be such a place, and those who
suppose heaven to be a place where the love of God is maintained at the
expense of his holiness know nothing of the matter. The only place where
the love of God will ever be given free reign at the expense of his holiness
is here and now on this earth, and that only for a little season, while
the Spirit of God strives with sinners to bring them to submission to
the claims of his holiness, and the day of judgement will make right every
wrong which is now passed over in the forbearance of God.
Of course I did not see this foundation
----really could not have
seen it ----until I first saw a great deal of the superstructure
which rests upon it. Yet when I apprehended the two sides of God's nature
as holiness and love, more than a quarter of a century ago, it made the
Bible a new book to me ----opened it up in all its fulness ----and
since that time I have been as it were on a mountain peak, beholding the
exquisite harmony and symmetry of the great panorama of truth, and never
tiring of the view. Every nugget of truth falls naturally and effortlessly
into its own place, with no straining of either the parts or the whole,
and we positively pity those who must be always racking and straining,
hacking and hewing, to try to make their systems hold together, or to
try to reconcile them with the Bible.
All this may look cold enough on paper. We know indeed that it is elementary
enough. This is not the realm of fine-spun theories or profound mysteries,
but of the simplest of truths, and yet those simple truths never cease
to ravish the soul, for here we learn what God is, and what can we know
more than this? If all this appears cold on paper, I am sorry for it,
and can only say that my own eyes flow with tears in the contemplation
My second windfall of understanding opened up to me rather what man is.
This came about at the age of forty, fourteen years ago, when I gained
a clear perception of the difference between the soul and the spirit.
I cannot say that this made the Bible a new book to me, but it shed a
great flood of light on many things which I knew already. The only sound
or helpful thing which I have ever read on the difference between the
soul and the spirit was found in Facts and Theories as to a Future State,
by the Plymouth Brethren F. W. Grant. I read this book of 600 pages through
thirty years ago, and the few pages which it devotes to the soul and the
spirit set my mind inquiring in the right direction. It was not, however,
till I studied the soul and the spirit in the Bible itself, with the aid
of the Englishmans' concordances, that the matter became quite plain to
me. This, as said, shed a flood of light on many other things, as the
difference between personality (the soul) and character (the spirit),
and the difference between inclination and volition, the former belonging
to the soul, and the latter to the spirit. Jonathan Edwards, by confusing
together inclination and volition (both of which are properly called willing)
made out a make-shift proof for the bondage of the will, but the proof
is a perfect nullity to anyone who understands the difference between
the soul and the spirit. What Edwards in reality did was to reason that
the spirit is bound because the soul is
----that our choices are
necessary because our desires are ----that volition is outside our
control because inclination is ----yet every child knows by experience
that this is not true. But to proceed, the apprehension of the diverse
natures of the soul and the spirit threw a flood of light on the difference
between sin and sins, the nature of self-denial, the nature of repentance,
the nature of love and hate, the nature of true religion. It taught me
what it means to serve God in the spirit ----made plain what we
can help and what we cannot ----taught me what we can do and what
we cannot ----made plain why no flesh can be justified by the law ----and
opened a grand vista of understanding on the difference between masculine
and feminine natures, for the spirit predominates in the masculine nature,
and the soul in the feminine.
Of course I say too little here to impart much light to my readers. I
aim rather only to whet their appetites. Those who have read Olde Paths
& Ancient Landmarks for the past ten years have already received,
here a little and there a little, a great deal of the fruits of this understanding.
But I look forward, and press forward, in the same pursuit of wisdom which
has occupied me for thirty-five years, and I wonder if another such windfall
may come to me. God knows how much I have yet to learn.
I trust I know it in some measure myself, for I have a great many unanswered
questions, and I feel deeply how little I know on many matters.
But one word of caution. Though I write to encourage my readers in the
pursuit of wisdom, yet I dare not allow them to expect any easy acquisition.
Let them observe, I never sought any windfall of wisdom. Such a thing
never entered my mind. I shun as a delusive snare the idea of getting
anything for nothing, and much less wisdom. I never sought it, and do
not seek it now, but only continue on in my same old course of gradually
and painstakingly acquiring the commodity which is more precious than
rubies. Apart from that gradual increase of wisdom, by diligent study
and hard experience, those windfalls which came to me would not have been
possible. We cannot build upon nothing. And we fear that those who seek
a windfall of wisdom are probably actually seeking vainglory more than
they are wisdom. Unfortunately, such folks are very likely to imagine
they have found a rich vein of pure wisdom, when in fact they have found
only fools' gold. That which is of slow building is solid, and no man
who knows anything of the nature of true wisdom would dream of anything
but a gradual acquisition. Yet the gradual and painstaking ascent of the
mountain may put us in a good position to reach the peak, which may open
to us a vista unknown and scarcely dreamed of before.
The Faith of Abraham
Abstract of a Sermon Preached on July 22, 2001
by Glenn Conjurske
Paul calls Abraham the father of all them that believe, obviously
not because he was the first who believed, but because of the pre-eminence
of his faith. Abraham's faith, though not perfect, was yet of the sterling
sort, and of a high degree also. Not perfect, surely, and it is a most
interesting fact that we may learn so much of the ways of unbelief by
studying the man of pre-eminent faith. More on that in its place. Meanwhile,
we only affirm that as Abraham had great faith, his faith was greatly
tried. I have long supposed that the greater our faith, the greater the
trial of our faith will be. The Lord never tried anyone in his earthly
ministry, as he did the woman to whom he said, O Woman, great is
thy faith. Great faith will bear a great trial, and only shine the
brighter, where little faith would faint and fail. The greater our faith,
the greater the trial we may expect.
Paul speaks twice of the faith of Abraham, once in Romans 4 and once in
Hebrews 11, and both times in connection with the trial of his faith.
Abraham's faith was subjected to two great trials, first to obtain his
Isaac, and then to slay him. These trials were not of the same sort. The
first was of a milder nature, but long continued, wearing, and tedious.
The second was sharp and short. God subjects our faith to both these kinds
Of Abraham's faith we read in Romans 4, (As it is written, I have
made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even
God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as
though they were; who against hope believed in hope, that he might become
the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall
thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body
now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness
of Sara's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief;
but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded
that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
I have preached so often on this phase of Abraham's faith that I need
say the less about it this morning. But I observe in the twenty-first
verse that he was fully persuaded of the promise. This is the key to all
the rest. Without this he must certainly have broken down. He did indeed
break down once, when he took Hagar to be his wife, and thought to procure
the promised seed by her. This was the impatience of unbelief. Men are
unwilling to wait for God when they have little or no expectation that
God will act for them after all. They must be always grasping, running
hither and thither, meditating one scheme after another by which they
can take themselves what they have no faith to wait upon the Lord for,
and almost always compromising in the process, lowering standards, giving
up principles, and calling good evil, and evil good. Of all this I have
seen a great plenty, for though I have seen many who follow Abraham in
his impatience and unbelief, I have seen few indeed who follow him in
his faith and patience. And of course all such impatient spirits will
call all their schemes and their grasping by the most noble names. This
is zeal for the cause of Christ. This is doing the will of God. Waiting
upon God they will call by hard names. This is laziness. This is lukewarmness.
Yet faith will have its day and its reward, and all those things which
unbelief and impatience have obtained by their grasping will prove to
be only trouble in the end. So it was with Ishmael.
Ishmael was born of unbelief, and for many years Abraham clung to that
scheme of his own, thinking to fulfill the promise of God himself, without
any help from God. He must compromise to take Hagar, lower standards,
give up holy principles, and of course look about for others who would
sustain him in his waywardness, by their example or approval. He would
doubtless now plead Sarah's approval, as much as he should have God's.
But he can have no very strong confidence that God is in the project at
all, and he must labor to pawn off his devious plan upon the Almighty.
And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
There never was any occasion for him to so plead for Isaac, but he had
his misgivings about his own plan, and none of that certainty which belongs
to faith. Such was Abraham's unbelief. But it was not thus that God would
be glorified. He had his own plan, and he would not own Abraham's. His
word was, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed. This
had been rather assumed than affirmed in the original promise given to
Abraham. It was only the impatience of unbelief, on the part of both Sarah
and Abraham, which had abandoned that assumption, but now that God affirms
it explicitly, Abraham lays hold of it again, and it is on this foundation
which he stands when he is a hundred years old. The case is now hopeless,
physically and naturally. His own body is now dead
that may mean, though certainly not dead in any technical or absolute
sense. I don't think it can mean anything more than weakened by age. Sarah's
womb is dead also. Her natural cycle is ceased, and she can no more bear
children ----not that she ever could. It is in such a plight that
Abraham hopes against hope, and staggers not at the promise through unbelief.
Here it was that he was fully persuaded, both that the promise was of
God, and that God was able to perform it.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone,
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, It shall be done.
So sang Charles Wesley of the faith of Abraham, but all this concerns
Abraham's faith to obtain his Isaac. He had a greater trial to come, which
required still greater faith. To obtain his son he must look to the promise
alone. To slay him he must look to the command alone
such a command!
The long, weary years of languishing are over, and he has now entered
into his rest and enjoyment, in the possession of the promised seed. The
Lord has blessed him, the Lord has kept his word, the Lord has vindicated
his faith, the Lord has made him to laugh, and repaid him for all his
weary years of waiting. He walks now under the clear blue sky, and basks
in the warm sunshine of heaven. But while he does so, a thunderbolt falls
upon him without warning, which must have well nigh overwhelmed him. God
said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest,
and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt
offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
This is a trial of an entirely different sort from his weary years of
waiting. But the fact is this, there are two great spheres in which our
faith must operate. We must have faith to endure, and faith to act
to suffer, and faith to obey. God tries our faith in both spheres. The
long continued trial was a test of the endurance of Abraham's faith. This
sharp and short one is a test of the obedience of his faith. Both of these
trials were extremely difficult to flesh and blood, but we suppose the
second required the greater faith. It was hard, no doubt, to wait twenty-five
years for his son, but it was a son he had never seen, never known, never
loved. It is another matter to slay that son after he is known and loved.
God knew this, of course, nor does he make any attempt to shield Abraham
from the full force of the trial. Just the reverse. Take now thy
son, he says, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and
offer him up for a burnt offering.
Now observe, there is only one way that Abraham could obey such a command.
He must have the absolute certainty that it came from God. He must be
fully persuaded that it was God who required this of him. For the faith
to endure, he must be fully persuaded of the promise. For the faith to
obey, he must be fully persuaded of the command. It is this certainty
which gives to faith all its stability and stamina. And we can have that
certainty, and we must have it. Without it we will certainly break down
under trial. The certainty which we need may encompass more than an explicit
command of God, such as Abraham had. We must be fully persuaded
of our call and commission, sure of our ground. We may act without this
long as it is easy to act ----but we cannot endure. We will break
down. A fellow who was going to Peru as a missionary ----not, as I suppose, because he was called of God, but because he was
restless, and determined to go somewhere
----asked me what he should
do if he had no success, if people did not support him, and if he found
himself useless and friendless and penniless in the place to which he
was going. I told him I would not tell him what he should do, but would
tell him what he would do. Said I, If you are certain that God has
called and sent you there, you will stick it out, regardless of every
difficulty, but if you lack that certainty, you will quit and return home.
He quit and returned home in a year. I believe that if he had walked by
faith, he never would have gone out in the first place. By faith he would
have endured where he was, endured the years of longing and languishing,
as Abraham did waiting for his Isaac, as Moses did in the back side of
the desert, as David did in the wilderness. But these restless, unstable
souls never walk by faith. They have no faith and patience ----and
no patience because no faith. They have no faith to endure the obscurity
of the back side of the desert, but must always be grasping for the throne,
the kingdom, the pulpit, the ministry, the limelight, and yet they soon
prove that they have no faith to endure that either. What they call faith
is nothing but grasping, impatient unbelief.
Anybody can act, and endure also, when things are easy. The whole army
of Israel can rush to the spoil when the giant is slain, but they stood
trembling and paralyzed when he was alive and threatening. It took a David
to act, and it was the certainty of faith which enabled him to do so.
He knew his divine call, knew his divine ground, and could therefore stand
firm on it, giant or no giant. It is for the hard times we need faith.
The hard times and the hard commands are the test of faith, and to stand
under those tests we must be fully persuaded that the ground
we occupy is of God. We may have that certainty, and we must have it.
It belongs to the nature of faith. But we will not obtain that certainty
in the same manner that Abraham did. God will not speak directly to us.
We gain our certainty from the Bible, and not necessarily from any direct
or explicit command, but from a broad spectrum of principles. Yet our
certainty may be just the same as Abraham's was, and indeed, it must be,
if we are to walk by faith.
To Abraham the certainty of faith was a plain necessity, to enable him
to act at all, to slay his son. In his long trial of endurance, everything
was against him but the promise of God. To that promise he must cling
in the face of difficulties, impossibilities, and a quarter century's
contrary experience. It was only the certainty of faith
fully persuaded of the promise ----which enabled him to endure at
all. And now, in this sharp and short trial, he needed the same certainty,
for here everything was against him but the command of God. Everything ----wife,
heart, conscience, truth, love, principle, reputation, family, friends,
enemies ----literally everything would have taken him clean contrary
to the obedience of faith; everything, that is, but the command of God.
If he had not been fully persuaded that the command was of God, he could
not have acted at all.
Consider what things stood in the way of his obedience. First, in order
to do what was right, he must seemingly do what was wrong. And not only
wrong in the eyes of others, but wrong in his own eyes also. Now it was
God who put him in this place. It was God who commanded him. It was God
who made the trial as severe and difficult as he could make it. And rarely
does God ask easy things of us. When he will try the faith of Abraham,
it is not Abstain from candy for three days, but slay thy
son. Do what is not only extremely difficult, but what appears to be wrong.
Renounce father and mother, or wife, or children. Disobey your husband.
Slay your son. God requires what no man could bring himself to do at all,
except for the positive command or call of God. And to act at all in such
a case, we must have the certainty that we are called of God to do so.
We realize, of course, that God never intended that Abraham should actually
slay his son. But Abraham didn't know that. And it is a plain fact that
God sometimes calls us actually to do those things which are seemingly
----and things which will certainly be regarded as wrong by
In the next place, therefore, consider the great reproach which would
come to Abraham for this act of obedience to God. Abraham had a reputation.
He was a godly man, a man of faith, a righteous man, the friend of God,
a man who had left all, and gone out not knowing whither he went, to obey
the call of God, but all of this will count for nothing when he puts forth
his hand to slay his son. All his righteousness and faithfulness, all
his sterling character for the past twenty-five years, will be ignored
and forgotten, while he is condemned for this one act. Who knows but what
Abigail endured the same reproach for aiding the Lord's anointed? There
are some who would overlook all of her obvious goodness, all her transparent
sterling worth, while they condemn her for this one thing, that she acted
against her husband's will
----and that when he was obviously in
the wrong, and when she obviously acted by faith. Hannah may have endured
the same reproach, for leaving her son at the temple as soon as he was
weaned. Such reproach was sure to fall upon Abraham when he slew his son.
It would avail nothing to plead that God led him to this, that God required
this of him. He would be told he was mistaken, deluded, insane. He was
in violation of the most rudimentary righteousness, and who would believe
that God had anything to do with it? It was his pride, his self-will,
or some delusion of the enemy, but it was not the will of God, and the
perpetrator of such a deed would be condemned even by the best of men,
and all his record of godliness forgotten.
Such was the reproach which Abraham would have to bear for rendering to
God what was God's, and the only thing which could sustain him in the
face of that reproach was the certainty that his course was of God. He
was fully persuaded that it was God who required this of him, and therefore
he would go forward through thick and thin, through evil report and good
report. When his old friends and allies condemned him, he would remain
just where he was. Their arguments and their reproaches were alike powerless
to move him, for he knew that his course was of God. He was fully persuaded.
But next, how would he answer to Sarah for this? This was her Isaac, her
laughter, the child for which she had languished for a quarter of a century,
the child for which she had longed and hoped, her tree of life, when her
heart had long been made sick by hope deferred, the child which she had
suckled and dandled and loved. When Ishmael had but mocked him, her verdict
was decided and peremptory: Cast out the bondwoman and her son.
And what would she now say when his father slew him? Well might Sarah
have denied his right to act at all in such a case, for Isaac was her
child as much as his, and did he not grievously wrong her in depriving
her of her son? All this Abraham doubtless felt, and nothing could have
moved him above it but his certainty of his ground. He knew that he was
led of God, commanded of God, and surely God had more right to Isaac than
Sarah could have. If Sarah is wronged, God must answer for it, for Abraham
is certain that God requires this of him, and he must render to God the
things that are God's, whatever the feelings, or rights, or arguments
of Sarah might be.
Finally, what would he do with the promise of God if he slew his son?
For twenty-five years that promise had been the dearest thing he knew.
For twenty-five years he clung to that, when he had nothing else to which
to cling. All the faithfulness and truthfulness of God hung upon that
----for can God promise, and not perform? Isaac was not
the fulfillment of that promise, but only the necessary foundation of
it. In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be
blessed. Abraham had no fulfillment of this as yet, and without
Isaac could have none. So shall thy seed be ----as the
stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea. Abraham had no fulfillment
of this, and without his Isaac could have none, for God had said to him,
In Isaac shall thy seed be called. Abraham certainly knew
that to slay his son would be to thrust the fatal knife into the promise
of God as well, and how could he do so? There was but one way: he was
fully persuaded that God required this of him. Without this he would have
been paralyzed. Everything but the command of God stood directly in the
way of his obedience, while the command alone moved him to it. He could
never have moved a hand or foot to obey, had he not possessed the certainty
that his course was of God.
That certainty he had, and this it was that moved him not only to obey,
but to count upon God for a miracle to salvage his own promise. By
faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received
the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That
in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise
him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Understand, the Old Testament account says nothing of this. How does Paul
know it? How does Paul know that Abraham went to the sacrifice counting
upon God to raise his Isaac from the dead? The same way we might know
it. It was a simple necessity. And mark, it was no certainty concerning
the command that led Abraham to expect God to raise Isaac from the dead.
No, it was his old certainty in the promise. Once upon a time, And
being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when
he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's
womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was
strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that,
what he had promised, he was able also to perform. That promise
remained yet unfulfilled. God has promised him a seed as the sand of the
sea, and he has received but the first grain, from which all the others
must spring. How shall he put that first grain to death with his own hands?
But as then, when he had not so much as a single grain, he staggered
not at the promise of God through unbelief, yea, he considered
not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither
yet the deadness of Sara's womb, so now he staggered not at the
command of God, nor troubled himself about the deadness of Isaac. Once
upon a time it was his own body and the womb of Sarah which must live
that the promise might be fulfilled. Now Isaac must live. But he troubled
himself about neither the one nor the other. God could see to that. Where
there is life there is hope, men say, but Abraham could hope when
life was gone. God had wrought once to give him his Isaac, in spite of
the deadness of Sarah's womb, and he could work now to give him back,
in spite of the death of Isaac himself. And all this because Abraham was
fully persuaded, of both the promise and the command.
This is the proper ground of faith, and upon this ground every soul of
man may stand if he will. Not that we think many do. No, When the
Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Not much of
it, surely. Faith links the soul directly to God, whether to his promise
or his command. It therefore enables us to stand alone, against the whole
world, as Noah did. It enables us to stand in the greatest of difficulties.
But where are we to get that certainty of faith? How are we to become
fully persuaded of either the promise or the command of God? By a course
which is really very simple, though not at all easy. We must walk before
God. We must have a single eye. We must seek no approval from men. We
must renounce father and mother, and wife and children, and Pharaoh and
Pharaoh's daughter, and country and kindred, and seek that approval which
comes from God only. Get thee out was at the foundation of
all Abraham's certainty. Not only so, but we must hate our own life also.
We must mortify our pride and our lusts, embrace the reproach of Christ
and the offence of the cross, and seek no great things for ourselves
it be by prayer. Pride and lust and unbelief and impatience are all bosom
companions, and 'tis little use to think of faith where pride or impatience
are indulged, or the reproach of Christ shunned. Then man and self become
our reference points, and we can no more walk before God than a politician
who is always reading the polls. Faith withers, and certainty is gone.
We are double-minded, thinking to please both God and man, and so unstable
in all our ways. Unstable because we have no fixed principle on which
to stand, or by which to walk. Our principle is to be accepted with men ----for
noble ends, of course! ----and the compass becomes a weather vane.
The certainty of faith will make us as solid as a rock. Without it we
shall be carried about as the sands before the waves.
Beware of Dogs
by Glenn Conjurske
Dogs are a strange combination of good and evil. Man's best friend
they have been called, for the good that is in them, and many a man has
found them so. Many have endured the evils of the dog's constitution,
for the sake of what is noble and useful in them. There is perhaps no
better example of loyalty on earth than that of a dog to its master, and
yet the same dog that will faithfully serve his master will attack and
maim his master's friend, upon no provocation whatever.
Now when the Bible bids us, in Philippians 3:2, to Beware of dogs,
this of course means to beware of their evil characteristics, not their
good, and it of course assumes that all dogs in general possess the same
evil attributes. To beware is to be wary, and we are to beware of specific
dangers, which we may easily recognize, if our eyes are open.
But observe, this is only if our eyes are open. Observation has been called
every man's university. Would that this were true! Observation is the
university in which every man may enroll, but in which few men do. Most
men go through the world with their eyes closed, and learn almost nothing
of what they might learn easily enough, with neither time nor effort,
if only they had their eyes open. The fact is, most of us see or hear
dogs every day
----every night, too ----and if our eyes are
open, we may easily learn the nature of a dog, and so learn what it is
that Paul bids us beware of. Of course I know that men's eyes are not
literally shut, nor their ears either, but there is a grand difference
between seeing and observing. There are many who see all, and observe
nothing. An excellent old Italian proverb, which I discovered a few days
ago, most truly affirms that The eye is blind if the mind is absent.
The difficulty is not that men do not see, but that they do not think.
What they see goes as it were in one eye and out the other, and never
takes root in the mind, or becomes the theme of any thought or meditation.
We must observe to learn, and every man has abundant opportunity of observing
dogs. I have observed them for about fifty years, and I may pass on some
of my observations to my readers. Ere I do that, however, we must establish
one point. When Paul bids us Beware of dogs, he of course
has no reference to the four-footed kind. He refers solely to dogs of
the human variety. It may be that the dog is man's best friend for the
simple reason that the two are so much alike. But however that may be,
it is a certain fact that there are a great many human beings who partake
largely of the nature of the dog, and these are the dogs Paul advises
us to beware of. Yet we can have no idea in the world to whom the apostle
refers, unless we know something of the nature of literal dogs. Knowing
that, we may easily see a striking correspondence between those of the
four-footed variety, and certain creatures which walk upright on two feet,
and of these latter we ought to beware.
One of the first and most obvious things we may learn of the nature of
dogs is that they are prone to attack. I learned this early, when I was
a little boy of about four years. I was at my grandmother's house. The
dog was eating from his dish. I squatted beside him, and gently patted
him on the head. In a split second he snarled and snapped, and fastened
his teeth on my knee cap. I came away, of course, crying bitterly, with
a ring of bloody tooth marks above and below my knee cap. The fault, of
course, was all my own
----for dog owners never blame their dogs
for anything ----and I was told I should never pet a dog while it
was eating. This advice I religiously observed for many years, but I don't
believe my bloody knee had anything to do with the fact that the dog was
eating. The fact was, he was a dog. He was prone to attack, prone to return
evil for good. I only showed him a little affection, and he must bite
me. He was not a wild or vicious dog, but a common house pet, yet he was
a dog, and therefore I must feel his teeth. Dogs in their nature are prone
to attack, and to inflict injuries all out of proportion to any real or
fancied offense offered to them.
Unfortunately, there are human beings who have the same characteristics.
I recall years ago talking to a woman who used to belong to our church,
trying to moderate her in her dealings with others. I told her that her
nature was confrontational. She didn't know how to deal mildly or gently
with people. She was prone to attack. I little dreamed at the time that
in a few years she would be attacking me, and leading the pack against
me, for she was then as loyal as I could expect anybody to be. Her loyalty
put me off my guard, and I failed to be wary where I ought to have been.
This same girl often lost her temper at me, but I brushed it off, and
loved and trusted her anyway, where the Bible tells me to Make no
friendship with an angry man. (Prov. 22:24). And if not with an
angry man, certainly not with an angry woman. Beware. Make
no friendship. If a wrathy woman, who loves to lose her temper and
storm and rage, complains that she has no friends, tell her she doesn't
deserve any, but make no friendship with her. There are reasons why she
is wrathy, deep-seated deficiencies in her character
contentiousness and lack of self-denial ----and you had better beware
while you can. You may regard the angry bark as harmless enough, but you
may one day feel the teeth.
If we observe the dog, to attempt to learn why he is so prone to attack,
we may make some very interesting discoveries. I would be reluctant to
attribute pride to a beast, but I think I may safely call it extreme self-importance.
He thinks he is the king of his master's domain, and he treats all others
as intruders. He never gives the benefit of the doubt, but treats every
man who sets foot near the place as an enemy, and supposes it his prerogative
to attack them all. Nothing shall infringe upon his sovereign sphere.
He nothing considers that he is but a low quadruped, nor that those whom
he attacks bear the image of God. His supreme self-importance sets him
above them all. Neither does he consider that those who walk by his fancied
domain have done him no wrong, nor ever intended to. He must treat them
as enemies, and forth in an instant to molest or attack them!
When I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, during my early married life,
my wife and I used often to walk to the grocery store or other places,
but I was obliged always to carry a large club, to ward off the dogs which
would invariably attack us. I suppose most everybody alive has had similar
experiences. About twenty years ago I was knocking on doors to try to
preach the gospel, in a small town in Kansas. I observed a large red dog
sitting on the porch at one house, and so of course determined to pass
by that house. Knowing something of the nature of dogs, I determined not
only to pass by the house, but to give it a wide berth. I chose, therefore,
to pass by on the other side, and accordingly walked to the
other side of the street. This was not good enough for the dog. He came
across the street to attack me, and followed me snarling and growling,
with his great teeth dangerously close to my person. Now experience has
taught me that in spite of all their propensity to attack, dogs are very
cowardly, and in spite of all their threats, will virtually never attack
a man to his face. I therefore turned and faced him, and walked slowly
backwards, looking him in the eye. Meanwhile his owner, no doubt hearing
his vicious barking, came out to rescue her poor baby from my relentless
stare. We think the owners who permit their dogs to threaten every man
who sets his foot near their property are much more guilty than the dogs.
If such dogs were whipped every time they threatened a stranger, they
would soon learn to leave them in peace. But this woman had no idea of
that, and it apparently never entered her mind to call off the dog
she knew she was powerless to do so ----and leaving the dog to threaten
as he pleased, she began to admonish me to just turn around and
walk away, assuring me that the dog would not bother me! I had more
sense than to take her advice, and replied, without taking my eyes off
the dog, Lady, he is bothering me, but she seemed to have
no ability to comprehend that. By walking backwards and looking the dog
in the eye till I was beyond his fancied domain, I managed to escape without
feeling his teeth.
Many such experiences have I had. When I was a boy of twelve, I was riding
my bicycle on a country road. Upon coming near a farm house, I saw a large
German Shepherd in the yard, but as the driveway was a very long one,
I had no doubt I could be long past it ere the dog could reach the road,
and I began to pedal harder. This dog, however, was an intelligent one,
and as soon as he saw me he started out on a run diagonally across the
field, so that he met me at the corner of the lot. I was riding as fast
as I could, and managed to outrun him.
Dog lovers will of course defend the animals, and tell us they are only
guarding their turf, but the defense is very lame. Suppose
they are guarding their turf. Must they therefore be vicious and irritable?
Who gave the dog the right to threaten or injure every man who comes to
do business with his master? Must they deny every man his rights, in order
to maintain fictitious rights of their own? Guarding their turf
or not, this is ridiculous. But no. I have been attacked by stray dogs,
who had no turf to guard. I was riding my bicycle early one morning, before
the rest of the world was out of bed, passing by the parking lot of a
large public building. I saw lying in the lot what looked like a large
crumpled over-coat, but when I came near, the coat got up and came over
to attack me. I was nearly past him ere he discovered my presence, and
so easily outran him. But I must come back by him on my return home, so
I stopped and cut myself a large maple stick. The dog was ready for me
when I returned
----wide awake this time ----and came out
as I expected for the attack. But I was ready for him also, and stopped
him in his tracks with one blow of my maple club. But whose turf was this
animal guarding? He was only a stray, and this was certainly not his home,
but he was full of self-importance, and fancied himself king wherever
he lay his carcass. Supposed also that he had some right to attack a man
who had never done him any wrong, nor ever would have. He must merely
assert his supremacy, and I have known dogs enough in human shape, who
are apparently possessed with the same compelling need.
When I was a small boy, we had spent the day at my grandmother's house.
When we returned home, we were met by a large and vicious stray dog, stationed
in the middle of the driveway, and determined to attack us as intruders.
My father (much braver than I!) made us all stay in the car, while he
got out and beat the dog off the property. It was our property, not his,
but such is the self-importance of the dog that he imagines himself the
emperor wherever he may set his foot, and he can bear no rival there.
Now there are people enough who display the same supreme self-importance.
The rights of others are nothing. They will attack their betters upon
any little provocation, or no provocation at all. And such is their exaggerated
opinion of themselves, that they always suppose themselves competent to
attack their betters. Like the merest little handful of noise and dog
fur, which will attack without misgiving an Angus bull or a half-ton pick-up
truck, so do these puffed up creatures attack their betters over anything
or nothing, and tread the rights of all men under their feet. One of these
who attacked me once, claimed it as a doctrine, which he thought to prove
from the Bible, that I ought to give up my human dignity, and so allow
him to attack me freely, and walk upon me as he pleased. We ought to beware
of such two-footed dogs, steer clear of them, and give them a wide berth.
It would be well for us all if such dogs were to be found in the world
only, but some are usually found in the church also. They freely oppose
others, but if any man dares to question them, this is attributed to pride.
Their supreme self-importance can no more bear a rival than the dog can
bear that a stranger should set foot near his own fancied domain. All
position and prestige belongs to them by right, and if they do not receive
their due, somebody will feel their teeth for it.
The next thing we observe in dogs is that they are very cowardly. I learned
as a boy never to turn my back to a dog, unless I meant to outrun him.
I observed that a dog which would threaten to the face would move around
behind for the actual attack, and bite the calf or the ankle. Dogs will
rarely attack face to face, but always bite from behind. They are the
true original of the back-biter. Of the two-footed sort of
such dogs we ought by all means to beware. But how are we to know them?
They will speak fair to our face, and how are we to know that they are
biting us behind our back? The confrontational woman, whom I mentioned
above, once complained bitterly to me because I had spoken something to
her disadvantage to a third party in another state. Meanwhile I learned
from the third party that these two had been running up astronomical
telephone bills talking about me!
----while I knew nothing
of it. Those who are bitten by the back-biter are usually the last to
know it, and how then are they to beware?
I have but one suggestion. When one comes to me to assassinate the character
of another, I may suspect at any rate that she will do the same to me
behind my back. Dogs are cowardly, and so are back-biters. They will constantly
speak behind the back what they would never dream of speaking to the face.
Even if they intend a face-to-face attack, they will first work behind
your back, to raise a pack of sympathizers. One of the pack which once
attacked me loved to rehearse the list of names which were on his side,
always including some names to which he had no right, and others of which
he ought to have been ashamed. But so they proceed to the attack, their
confidence bolstered not by the goodness of their cause, but by the strength
of their numbers. This is the anatomy of church splits, most of which
would never occur but for the tongues of the back-biters.
Another characteristic of dogs is that they love to raise clamors. They
are utterly destitute of the faculty by which we distinguish the weighty
from the frivolous, or by which we distinguish something from nothing,
but must raise a great hue and cry over every little occurrence which
would be altogether beneath the notice of sounder minds. If the cows are
in the corn, or the stable door left open, the dog will speak never a
word, but what clamors he will raise over nothing! A chipmunk venturing
out of his hole, or an invasion by a hostile army, is all one to a dog,
and he will bark as though the sky were falling over both the one and
the other. The shining of the moon, an automobile stopped too long at
the corner stop sign, the neighbors shutting a car door, a siren or train
whistle in the distance, a loon calling, or a fox barking
these are the signals to bound up in his self-important dignity and raise
a great clamor, and as often as not every dog within hearing will join
in the general yapping, not one in a dozen of them having any idea why
they are barking.
And so do the human dogs also. What clamors have I seen raised over the
most frivolous nothings! What divisions of families and churches and nations
have ensued from such clamors! And like the barking of all the dogs in
the neighborhood, some cry one thing, and some another, and the more part
know not wherefore they are come together. A great faction is raised,
to depose the king, or to oust the preacher, though it would be hard to
find any three in the crowd who could agree together as to why he should
be ousted. One is unhappy because she cannot find a husband, another because
his crops have failed, another because his paycheck is too small, another
because bootleg liquor is against the law, but all are agreed the king
must be deposed.
I once had such a pack of hounds
----or sheep acting like hounds ----barking
and howling at me, all determined to condemn me, all agreeing that my
offenses were very grievous, but none of them knowing exactly what they
were. The original charges against me were that I tease people, that I
don't communicate well with people, and that I always think I am right.
I told them that the first charge was true ----and bent over backwards
to mend anything that might be offensive in my teasing, but found that
nothing would satisfy them but an unqualified admission that I deliberately
trampled on people's feelings. The second charge was ridiculously false ----
and I proved their proofs to be a tissue of mistakes
if true, it was my misfortune, not my sin. The third was also ridiculously
(not to say maliciously) false, and I proved it false by numerous examples.
Ah! but the clamor was raised already, and the three charges soon grew
to a hundred. Indeed, they changed every day. When I told them their charges
were frivolous, this was soon made out to be the greatest sin of all ----for
who can convince a dog that the sporting of the chipmunks in the yard
is not as serious a matter as the invasion of a foreign army? The dog
raises his clamors purely on the basis of his own self-important dignity.
He must have something to bark at, some occasion to make himself heard,
some occasion to assert his superiority, and it really matters but little
what it is. Reason has not the remotest connection with the matter. He
will bark at the burglar or the moon, and it is all one to him. He is
supremely self-important, easily stirred up, and determined to be heard.
Therefore he will raise clamors over anything or nothing. And I have seen
the two-footed variety do so also.
But suppose it to be a flock of sheep which attack their shepherd
fight among themselves ----and not a pack of dogs. Can a sheep be
called a dog? We hardly think so, and yet Paul's warning is surely practical,
not technical. We do not judge every man who sometimes shows the nature
of a dog to be nothing but a dog, any more than we judge every man a hypocrite
who is guilty of hypocrisy. Brethren may be overtaken in faults. Some
of whom I have written were apparently true sheep, yet they displayed
much of the nature of the dog, and I saw them join forces in their vicious
biting with some who were dogs indeed, against my solemn admonitions that
they ought to be ashamed of their allies. But they were governed by pride
and passion, and would not hear. Paul writes, But if ye bite and
devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
Biting and devouring are certainly the behavior of dogs, not sheep, and
yet it is to the churches of Galatia that he writes such things. It would
seem that a true sheep may retain something of the nature of the dog,
or fall back into it, and so far as he does, we ought to beware of him.
To all the above I may add that dogs do not forget injuries. They hold
grudges. They are as vengeful as they are vicious. If the dog once attacked
the mail man, and the man, in self defence, gave the pooch a kick, he
will be his mortal enemy for ever. No matter that the whole thing was
the dog's fault. The fact is, this man kicked him, and he will not forget
it. His hair will bristle, and he will set himself for another attack,
whenever he smells the approach of the same man. In the great clamor which
was raised against me some years ago, the woman who led the pack began
her attack by bringing up a matter which was five years old, and a matter,
too, in which I was as innocent as an angel. She felt injured by it, but
in reality she was wronging me to feel so. And many such ancient matters
did she throw in my face, in most of which she knew nothing of the facts.
She had treasured up fancied injuries until they burst the dam. One of
her allies brought a matter against me which was ten years old, and of
which I had never heard a word in those ten years
----a very frivolous
matter, too. He had mentioned some trial of his own, and I responded with,
I know what you feel. I have been there myself. And this was
treasured up against me for ten years, and then solemnly brought forth
as the grand proof of my pride! What I had spoken in sympathy was taken
as an assertion of equality, and this was a great offence. Now this displays
the nature of the dog, who stands supreme in his own self-importance,
and can bear no challenger. Of such dogs we ought to beware, if we can
but find them out.
So much for the nature of the dog. I may have overlooked some things,
for I have had but one short life in which to observe the creatures. But
I must extract another nugget or two from the text. There are certain
silly notions which prevail in modern Evangelicalism on the subject of
judging. Some hold that it is wrong, and others that it is impossible,
to judge another man's character. Such notions are silly, for they set
common sense at defiance, affirming it to be impossible to judge, when
in fact it is impossible not to. And not silly only, but dangerous also.
Shall a woman marry a man without judging his character, because it is
wrong to judge? Shall a church receive a man into its membership, or put
him into office or into the pulpit, without judging his character, because
it is wrong to judge? This is silly, and these notions are directly against
the Bible also. By their fruits ye shall know them. Yea, Even
a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether
it be right. His doings are seen, and by these his character is
But modern Evangelicalism has made judging out to be the greatest of sins,
and by this means it shields and covers all other sins. We know that there
is a certain judging which the Bible disallows, but for all that we must
judge men's characters. How can we Beware of dogs, if it is
----if it is impossible ----to tell who or what a dog
is? Some, by misunderstanding Paul's admonition in I Corinthians 5:12
& 13, have made it illegitimate to judge the character of anybody
outside the church, but this is a great mistake. The advice of our text
assumes that we are capable of distinguishing the nature of the dog in
men, and that it is right to do so. The Lord judged Herod a fox, and judged
some others to be wolves, and yet others to be wolves in sheep's clothing,
and this was not merely the pronouncement of omniscience. No, he judged
their character by their deeds, and we may do the same. By their
fruits ye shall know them, and when we see the nature of the dog
in a man, we had better beware of him. Put no confidence in him. Keep
our distance from him. This is wisdom.
Gilbert Tennent on the Terms of Salvation
[I first became acquainted with Gilbert Tennent about thirty years ago,
and have been engaged through all those thirty years in a diligent search
for some of his writings, but a search utterly fruitless in the channels
which were open to me. I have lately learned that many of his works are
available on microfilm, and have (thus far) obtained six or eight of them
by interlibrary loan. Thus I am very happy to be able to add his testimony
to the many which I have published on the terms of the gospel. Tennent
(Presbyterian, 1703-1764) was the American Whitefield, stirred up to itinerant
labors by the example and exhortations of Whitefield, and nearly rivalling
him in the power and effects of his preaching. Though his Calvinism causes
him often to muddle the matter, by making conversion something which is
infused into us, yet the fact that, late in his life, he preached and
printed ten consecutive sermons on Ezekiel 33:11
ye, turn ye, from your evil ways, for why will ye die? ----is
proof enough that he held the forsaking of sin to be necessary to salvation
The following quotations, embracing both his earliest and latest ministry,
are clear enough to establish the matter. ----editor.]
Of Repentance: Which many take to be a legal Sorrow, with some Care after
Reformation. But had not Judas and Ahab slavish mercenary Sorrow? Some
People think that if they do but mourn (whatever Principle it be from)
when they have committed some gross Crime, and take some Care afterwards
for a while to avoid it, that they are true Penitents; but O Friend, this
is far from true Repentance! thy mourning must be from Love. Psalm 51.
Thy Hatred must be universal and implacable, 2 Cor. 7.11. And there must
be a thorow Reformation after it. For it is he that confesseth and forsaketh
Sin, that shall find Mercy. Without this you may go on sinning and repenting
alternately, or by turns, and notwithstanding be damned at last eternally,
Rev. 21.8 & 22.15.
----A Solemn Warning to the Secure World, from The God of terrible
Majesty, by Gilbert Tennent. Boston: Printed by S. Kneeland and T. Green,
for D. Hinchman, 1735, pg. 20.
1. WE should turn to GOD universally, young and old, Male and Female,
White and Black, Bond and Free, Learned and Unlearned, Rich and Poor,
Jer. 25.5. Turn ye again, every one from his evil Way, and dwell in the
2. SINCERELY, affectionately, and thoroughly, with the whole Heart, with
deep sorrow for our Sins, in the mean Time, forsaking all our Iniquities,
in Affection and Practice, and turning to all commanded Duty, and to God
in Duty; Joel 2.11,12,13. Turn ye even to me, with all your Heart, and
with Fasting, and with Weeping, and with Mourning. The Term from which
we are to turn, is our evil Ways, i.e. such Iniquities as we have made
ours by evil Custom, all our evil Ways without excepting any, no not our
Constitution Sin, that Achan must be slain, that right Eye must be plucked
out, or we ruined; nor is it enough to forsake the outward Practice of
Sin, while it is loved and indulged in our Hearts, no all such are base
Pharisees and Hypocrites, whose Righteousness we must exceed on Pain of
----Sermons on Important Subjects, by Gilbert Tennent. Philadelphia:
James Chattin, 1758, pp. 158-159.
That God, who is absolute Lord of his own Treasures, and can dispense
them to his Creatures, upon what Terms he pleases, has by positive Constitution
made Conversion, or Holiness, which are but different Words for the same
Thing, of absolute Necessity to Salvation.
----ibid., pg. 231.
And as to the Unconverted, I beseech you, by the Mercies of GOD, to pity
your poor Souls, and to turn from your evil Ways to Jehovah speedily;
remember while you delay this, you are Murderers, Self-Murderers, Soul-Murderers,
Self-Soul-Murderers, your Blood is upon your own Heads, your Destruction
is the Fruit of your own Wickedness and Obstinacy, in rejecting, against
your own Souls, God's repeated Warnings and Invitations, and therefore
it is but just that you should perish, and this you will be obliged to
own at last, to God's Honour, and your own Shame; what unspeakable Anguish
will a Reflection upon this, cause in your Consciences another Day, unless
you speedily repent and reform, before it be too late, too late? O! think
often upon the inexpressible Dangers and Miseries of your present Condition,
cry to GOD earnestly and frequently for converting Grace, attend with
Seriousness upon the Means appointed for that End; and, in particular,
O hear now the gracious Call of God, in our Text, Turn ye, turn ye, from
your evil Ways.
----AMEN. AMEN. ----ibid., pp. 235-236.
...the Almighty had no Pleasure in the Destruction of Sinners, but would
rather they should turn and live; and that in case they repented and reformed,
he would readily accept of them, and prevent their ruin; but if they persisted
in their Impiety, after all the Warnings given them, their ruin must be
ascribed to themselves: Death is your own Choice, not mine, so long as
you go on in the Way that leads to it, for whoso sinneth against me, wrongeth
his own Soul; he that wilfully chooseth Sin, and continues in the Practice
of it, does interpretatively chose Death, which is its Wages and Consequence.
----ibid., pp. 238-239.
JEHOVAH expostulates with Transgressors why will ye die? q. d. why do
ye chose your own Ruin, By walking in the Way of Impiety, that leads
to, and issues in it? are not Sin and Punishment bound together, by such
Chains as nothing but Repentance and Reformation can break?
----ibid., pg. 240.
Whosoever will, i.e. is willing to forsake all Sin, all Self-Dependance,
and accept a whole Saviour, with his Law and Cross, as well as depend
entirely on his Blood, and live to him; every such Person is invited by
the blessed God, to come and take the Water of Life freely; let his outward
State be never so poor and mean, his Sins ever so many, or so great; and
his Troubles for them, in his Apprehension, ever so small? All these are
no Hindrances to Remission and Salvation, in case you believe. The
3. PARTICULAR in the Invitation, is the Duties invited to, which are these,
1st, To come to Christ, and his Benefits, which are doubtless intended
by the Water of Life, in this Text: Now coming to Christ, most certainly
signifies our believing in him; he therefore that believes that Christ
is the Son of God, the Saviour of the World, able and willing to save
all that come to the Father by him; he that seriously considers upon the
Terms of Self-Denial, taking up the Cross, and following Christ, that
the Gospel offers him, and his Benefits upon, and fully Consents to them;
he that relies upon his Mediation entirely, for a Right to Happiness,
under a Sense of Guilt and Impotency, and commits the Concerns of his
Salvation into his Hands, with Freedom, Desire, and Hope, and in Consequence
hereof, brings forth the Fruits of the Spirit, comes to Christ.
----ibid., pg. 325-326.
If any are for a GOSPEL that rejects Obedience to the Moral Law, there
is no such Gospel in the BIBLE, Christ nor his Apostles never preach'd
such a Gospel, but the contrary: It is a MYSTERY of INIQUITY and MISCHIEF:
From such a Gospel good Lord deliver us!
----Discourses on Several Important Subjects, by Gilbert Tennent.
Philadelphia: W. Bradford, 1745, pg. 338.
Now seeing that Christ ordered Repentance and Remission of Sins to be
preach'd in his Name, to all Nations, as before observed, it evidently
appears, that this is one important Branch of the COMMISSION Christ gives
to his Ministers, and therefore is one Character by which we may be assisted
in judging who they are. I may add to what has been said, that Repentance
is excluded by the Covenant of Works, there is no Place for Repentance
there, no Plank after Shipwreck; it requires nothing but perfect Obedience,
and neither enjoyns nor admits Repentance, for it admits not of Pardon;
and where there is no Forgiveness, there can be no Place for Repentance;
Repentance and Forgiveness come in therefore by the New Covenant. From
what has been said upon this Head, considered complexly, you may see,
that if there be any Gospel-Duties at all, Repentance is one, and therefore
that those who reject it, as legal, understand not what they say, nor
whereof they affirm, and have found out a PRETENDED GOSPEL different from
what Christ and his Apostles preach'd.
----ibid., pp. 342-343.
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.