Olde Paths &
Ancient Lndmrks

Christian Issues

Book Room

Tape Corner

Contact us


Vol. 2, No. 2
Feb., 1993

Esau's Birthright

by Glenn Conjurske

“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12:16-17).

Esau is here called a profane person----not profane in the modern sense of the word, as a user of profane language----but a secular person, a person with a purely secular point of view. This is evident in the profane act to which this scripture refers: he “for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” He bartered away the future for the sake of the present moment. He bartered away the spiritual for the mundane. He attached little value to the spiritual, to the eternal, to the inheritance, to the blessing. “Esau despised his birthright,” Moses tells us (Gen. 25:34). To despise anything is to esteem it lightly, to attach no proper value to it. “One morsel of meat” was more to him than the birthright and all the blessing it entailed.

Esau was, as Delitzsch says, “so profane..., so low-minded, so utterly lost to a sense of higher things, that for one poor dish he gave up or sold...the rights of the first-born to a double portion of the inheritance of his father (Deut. xxi.17), and what to the mind of faith was the most precious privilege of all, the continuation of that patriarchal line in which were enshrined the promises. For the inheritance and pastoral wealth of his father he cared not, being wildly devoted to the chase, and still less for the promise made to Abraham and Isaac, having no eye or heart but for the immediate present.” His viewpoint was earthly, temporal, mundane, with no eye (because no heart) for the spiritual and eternal. The same is seen in the parable of the great supper (Luke 14:16ff.), in the men who despised the gospel feast, caring only for the things of this life----the piece of ground, the wife, and the five yoke of oxen. The same is seen in the contemporaries of Noah (Luke 17:26-27), who were given up to eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, all unconcerned about the judgement of God which hung heavy over their heads. The same is seen in the men of Sodom (Luke 17:28), who were wholly taken up with eating and drinking, buying and selling, building and planting, and cared nothing about the judgement which was about to overtake them. The same is seen in the rich fool (Luke 12:16ff.), who had much goods laid up for many years on this earth, but had nothing provided for the vast eternity into which his naked soul was about to enter. All these are “profane persons,” as Esau was.

We see the opposite of this in the men of faith of all ages, whose eye was always fixed upon the future blessing----the things hoped for----the things not seen----the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away----the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God----the better country----the recompense of the reward----and who lived in accordance with those hopes. Their course has always been therefore just the opposite of Esau's. As profane persons lightly esteem the spiritual and the eternal, men of faith lightly esteem the temporal and the mundane. As profane persons give up the future good in order to secure the present, men of faith give up the present good in order to secure the future. Abraham gave up his country and his kindred in order to secure the promised blessing. (Gen. 12:1; Heb.11:8). Moses gave up the pleasures and treasures of Egypt in order to secure the recompense of the reward. (Heb. 11:25-26). Paul suffered the loss of all things, and counted them but dung, that he might win Christ. (Phil. 3:8). “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35). This is the invariable way of faith, and those who know nothing of this, but hold to and pursue after the present gain and good, and are not rich toward God, are in reality as profane as Esau, whatever faith they may profess.

Esau was utterly devoid of that faith which sets a proper value upon the future inheritance, and which therefore seeks first the kingdom of God. All his thoughts were for the present, and he bartered away the inheritance for the gratification of the present moment. He had none of that faith which, while it seeks first the kingdom of God, expects that God will add to it the necessities of the present moment. All his course was dictated by unbelief. By faith “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:18). Esau had none of this, but regarded only the present, and, after the usual way of unbelief, magnified the present difficulty----for we can hardly suppose he was actually “at the point to die,” as he claimed (Gen. 25:32). If he had strength enough to come in from the field, he was not likely to die when he arrived. His whole viewpoint, and all of his actions, were the opposite of the way of faith. Paul, too, had difficulties. “We were pressed,” he says, “out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (II Cor. 1:8). Yet Paul had faith, and his reckoning was just the reverse of Esau's. He minimized the present trouble, calling it, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” (II Cor. 4:17).

Here, then is the difference between a profane person, who lives in the realm of unbelief, and a holy man, who reckons and walks by faith. The profane despise the eternal verities, attaching but little weight to either the promised blessings or the threatened judgements of God. Their thoughts are engrossed with things temporal and earthly, and in those they live and move and have their being. They eat and drink, buy and sell, and build and plant, and care no more for the fire and brimstone which is about to fall from heaven than they do for heaven itself. All of this is exactly reversed in the men of faith. Their faith gives substance to the unseen things which are so lightly esteemed by the profane. They live and move and have their being in those unseen and eternal realities. Their whole course is determined with reference to them. They despise both the good and the evil of this present life, in just the same sense in which the profane despise the things of the life to come. They are not controlled by them. Their course is not determined by them. At the call of better and higher things, they “forsake all” that pertains to this life. Yea, at the call of those eternal realities they can suffer the loss of all things, and count them but dung, take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and love not their lives unto death. They neither pursue the goods of this world, nor shun the cross of Christ. They follow Christ, who emptied himself, made himself poor, and “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

But “when the Son of man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?” The world is one vast assemblage of Esaus, and what is worse, most of the churches are filled with them also, though they are not likely to suppose themselves to be profane persons as Esau was. Esau made a conscious and deliberate choice to barter the future inheritance for the necessities of the present moment. Most profane persons never make such a conscious choice, though there can be but little doubt as to which side their choice would be on if they were forced to a decision. It is evident enough which side their heart is on, from the choices which they make every day of their lives. They profess to value the eternal inheritance (and no man who has any sense of God at all can totally despise it), but their lives give the lie to their lips. See how they spend their time. See how they spend their money. See how they spend their energies. See what things engross their thoughts and plans and studies. See how much they play, and how little they pray. See how they lay up treasures on the earth. See how quickly they will compromise to avoid the reproach of Christ. See how they shrink from the offence of the cross. See how they nurse and pamper and paint and adorn the perishing body, while they scarcely deign to feed the immortal soul. See how they let the opportunities for eternity slip away from them, while they grasp with unerring hand the opportunities for time.

'Tis true, they have never made a conscious decision to relinquish the eternal blessing for the mess of pottage, but neither have they ever made the contrary choice. There is nothing in them of the Abraham, who gave up country and kindred to secure the promised blessing. There is nothing in them of the Moses, who gave up the pleasures and treasures of Egypt for the reproach of Christ and the afflictions of his people, in order that he might secure the recompense of the reward. There is nothing in them of the Noah, who toiled for one hundred and twenty years amidst the reproaches of the world in order to secure the salvation of God. There is nothing in them of the Paul, who suffered the loss of all things and counted them but dung, that he might win Christ. They profess indeed to value the birthright, but the life which they live every day indicates only too plainly that they attach more value to the mess of pottage. The fact is, they really expect to possess both----the mess of pottage here and now, and the blessings of the birthright hereafter. Supposing themselves to have faith, they have never made those choices which faith invariably makes, nor lived the life which men of faith have always lived. They have never seriously reckoned with the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, “But woe unto you that are rich! for YE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR CONSOLATION. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25). They have never seriously reckoned with the solemn words which Abraham spoke from Paradise, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” (Luke 16:25).

But in all of this they are in reality nothing different from Esau, for though he deliberately sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, yet when the time came to receive the blessing, he expected to receive that also. He did not utterly despise the blessing; he only despised it comparatively. And so when he heard that his brother had received the blessing, “he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Gen. 27:34). But God held him to the choice which he had made. “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” He found, too late, that he could not barter away the blessing and possess it too. And so every man will find who lives his life in actual and practical disregard (whatever he may profess) of the eternal verities, while the perishing things of the present life engross his thoughts and plans and energies. He is a “profane person, as Esau,” who every day of his life barters the enduring substance of eternity for the perishing things of time, and in the end he will find that God will hold him to the choices which he has made.


What Manner of Time

by Glenn Conjurske

“Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Peter 1:10-11).

It is plain from this scripture that the Old Testament prophets did not understand everything in their own prophecies. It was “the Spirit of Christ which was in them” that spoke, and not merely themselves. Therefore they “searched diligently” into their own writings. The one thing in particular into which they thus searched was the matter of time. The prophecies left them ignorant of this.

The prophecies spoke of “the sufferings of Christ” as well as of “the glory that should follow”----but as to the time of these things, the very prophets who wrote them were puzzled. They were puzzled not only concerning what time, but even concerning what manner of time. That Messiah would suffer was plainly foretold, as it was also that he would reign in glory, but both are sometimes mixed together in the same prophecy, thus presenting this enigma concerning “what or what manner of time.” Many of the Jews sought to solve the enigma by believing in two Messiahs. David Baron, a converted Jew, writes, “Most Talmudic Jews believe in two Messiahs; Messiah Ben Joseph, who shall be killed, and Messiah Ben David, who shall reign.” A little deeper thought might have led them to the realization that both Joseph and David passed through both the sufferings and the glory, and in this they were both types of the one and only Messiah.

The true solution to the enigma, of course, is not in two Messiahs, but in two comings of the one and only Messiah. Yet those two comings were not clearly distinguished in Old Testament prophecy. The two events were sometimes seen together as though they were but one, like two mountain peaks viewed from a distance----the one appearing to touch the other. But when we view them near at hand, it then appears that a great valley lies between them.

The first obvious example of this is in the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible, in Genesis 3:15. “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Here are plain prophecies of both the first and second advents of Christ, with nothing whatever to distinguish them. Satan bruised the heel of Christ at his first advent. Christ will bruise the head of Satan at his second advent. If the bruising of Christ's heel is properly applied to his death, the bruising of Satan's head must certainly apply to his complete destruction. That bruising is well described by John Gill thus: “that is, destroy him and all his principalities and powers, break and confound all his schemes, and ruin all his works, crush his whole empire, strip him of his authority and sovereignty, and particularly of his power over death, and his tyranny over the bodies and souls of men,” yet Gill is blind enough to refer all of this to the first coming of Christ, saying, “all which was done by Christ, when he became incarnate and suffered and died.” Yet Paul says, in an obvious reference to this prophecy, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” (Rom. 16:20). This is not yet done. It will be done at the second coming of Christ, when he will come “with ten thousands of his saints” (Jude 14), when the saints “shall judge angels” (I Cor. 6:3). The prophecy in Genesis 3:15 looks at both advents of Christ, without a hint to distinguish them, and even places the second advent before the first.

Another clear example of the same thing will be found in Isaiah 61:1-2. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” In Luke 4:18-21 the Lord read this scripture in the synagogue, and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” But he did not read it all. He stopped short before “the day of vengeance of our God,” and closed the book. The acceptable year of the Lord had reference to the first coming of Christ, the day of vengeance of our God to his second coming. Yet in the Old Testament prophecy the two are run together without a hint that they were to be separated by a vast period of time.

In addition to these prophecies which view both of his advents together, there are also numerous passages which speak of one or the other of them, all without a word to indicate which coming is spoken of, or even to indicate that there would be more than one. Observe, then, the following indisputable facts concerning the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Christ:

The Old Testament prophesies the coming of Christ, but never spells out the fact that he would come twice. It did prophesy of both comings, but without distinguishing them, sometimes mingling them both together as though they were but one indivisible event. But though these two advents were not explicitly distinguished, yet there was enough said of them that men might have distinguished them, and apparently ought to have done so, for the Lord reproves the disciples on the road to Emmaus for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25), and this with reference to the very two things which puzzled the prophets of old, “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” “Ought not Christ”----or, as we may legitimately translate it, “Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). There was enough said in the Old Testament to necessitate the belief in those sufferings and in that glory, and therefore there was enough said to necessitate the conclusion that the Messiah would come twice----once to suffer and die, once to conquer and reign----once in humiliation and weakness, once in power and glory. Yet the fact is, so far as we are aware, no one ever did draw that necessary conclusion. No one ever did make that distinction----though some approached it, in their expectation of two Messiahs. The prophets who wrote the prophecies never understood it. Alas, many Christians in the present day still remain in the same ignorance, as slow of heart now to believe the prophecies of Christ's glory as the disciples then were to believe those of his sufferings. Such continue to apply all, or almost all, of the Old Testament prophecies to the first coming of Christ, though in order to do so they must completely empty many of them of their obvious import, making them to mean something altogether other than what they say.

When we turn to the New Testament prophecies of Christ's coming, we find a state of things exactly similar. The coming again of Christ is spoken of in generic terms, in such a way as that we might very well suppose it to be one indivisible event. But when all that is said is examined with due care, we are forced to the conclusion that the “second coming” of Christ is not one indivisible event----no more than his advent prophesied in the Old Testament was one indivisible event. His coming again to receive his saints to himself and take them to that place which he has gone to prepare for them in heaven, and his coming to execute judgement on the ungodly and establish the kingdom of God on earth, are two events as dissimilar as his coming to suffer and to die, and his coming to judge and to reign, which were prophesied in the Old Testament. The fact that the New Testament may fail to explicitly distinguish these two events, or may seem to speak of them both as though they were but one, is nothing to the purpose----for the same thing exactly is indisputably true of the Old Testament prophecies of his first coming.

But further, neither is it anything to the purpose to be told that for eighteen centuries no one in the church saw these two distinct events, for we know as a certain matter of fact that the Old Testament spoke of two distinct comings of Christ, and yet no one ever saw it at all, during the whole time that the Old Testament economy was in force. They struggled with the difficulties which the prophecies of Messiah's sufferings and Messiah's glory presented to them, but they never found the answer to those difficulties, simple as that answer was.

One reason for the failure of the Old Testament saints to see these things lay in the cryptic, the obscure, the non-explicit nature of the prophecies themselves. It was a matter of great enough difficulty to them even to know which particular prophecies referred to the Messiah at all. That has remained in some cases a difficulty even to the saints of the present dispensation, but it must have been a thousandfold more so then.

But there is another reason that many of the Jews failed to see the two comings of Christ in the Old Testament. That reason is found in the reproof which the Lord administered to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken.” They looked (and rightly) for a conquering and reigning Messiah, but were “slow of heart to believe” in a rejected and suffering Messiah. “He”----the Lord of hosts----“shall be for a sanctuary: but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel.” (Is. 8:14). Peter tells us that this stone of stumbling and rock of offence is “the stone which the builders disallowed” (I Pet. 2:7-8), that is, a rejected Christ. Paul tells us that “Christ crucified” is “unto the Jews a stumblingblock.” (I Cor. 1:23). In other words, the stone of stumbling and rock of offence was their own Messiah, fulfilling their own Scriptures. Peter nearly stumbled over this stone of stumbling, refusing the explicit statement, concerning his rejection and suffering, of him whom he already acknowledged as the Messiah, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord.” (Matt. 16:21-22). John the Baptist nearly fell over this rock of offence, and received the mild reproof from the Lord, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Matt. 11:6).

It is no wonder, then, that the Jews never saw the two advents of Christ in the Old Testament prophecies, when they were so “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken” concerning the most salient feature of his first coming. Turning to the present dispensation, we meet with just the same state of things. We are asked with an air of triumph, If the New Testament speaks of two distinct comings of Christ, why did the saints never see this for eighteen centuries? We ask in return, If the Old Testament speaks of two distinct advents of Christ, why did the Old Testament saints never see this at all? But we proceed to answer the question put to us:

Part of the answer undoubtedly lies in the non-explicit nature of Scripture in general, and of these prophecies in particular----the same in the New Testament as in the Old Testament. This is sufficient in itself to account for the apparent ignorance of the early fathers of the church on the subject----every bit as sufficient as the non-explicit nature of the Old Testament prophecies is to account for the ignorance which prevailed in that dispensation. The early fathers of the church might have seen these things, but seemingly did not. Little wonder, this, for the church in those days was so often distracted with severe persecutions that there was but little leisure for quiet study. When those persecutions ceased, the church quickly sank into such a state that it could not see the distinction between the rapture of the church and the manifestation of Christ to the world. The hope of Christ's coming was soon lost. The church settled down into a secularized “spiritual” kingdom which was of this world, and ceased to pray “thy kingdom come.” And much worse, men rose to the leadership of the church who believed equally in the divine inspiration of heathen philosophy and the Scriptures of God. They set themselves to reconcile the two. The result was the same as it usually is when men seek to reconcile falsehood with the Scriptures. The falsehood was maintained, and the Scriptures practically given up. The heathen philosophy was allowed to stand at face value, while the Scriptures were subjected to a “spiritual” interpretation which made them mean anything but what they said. A millennium of darkness followed, rightly called the “dark ages.” The Reformation recoiled from this “spiritual” interpretation in general, but retained it in the field of prophecy. Thus Protestantism came into existence blindfolded on prophetic themes, and existed for three centuries almost completely destitute of the light which is necessary to be able to see the distinction between the rapture of the church to heaven and the establishment of the kingdom on earth. That kingdom itself was spiritualized. The antichrist was spiritualized. Daniel's seventieth week was spiritualized. In many cases even the return of Christ was spiritualized, and made to be a “spiritual” coming, at conversion, at death, at the destruction of Jerusalem, or in some event of providence. Now the plain fact is, when men were walking in such a mist of darkness on all of the most elementary points of prophecy, it was a simple impossibility for them to see the finer points. When they did not believe in a literal tribulation, how could they believe in a rapture of the saints before it? If they could not see the distinction between Israel and the church, how could they see that the church would be raptured, while Israel was required to face “the time of Jacob's trouble”?

And this is an all-sufficient answer to the question, If the pretribulation rapture of the church is taught in Scripture, why did no one see it for eighteen centuries? The fact that no one taught the doctrine before 1830 is just what all the facts which we know would lead us to expect, and it is really irrelevant. The fact that the early fathers of the church apparently did not see this is no more surprising than the fact that the whole Jewish people remained ignorant of the two advents of Christ which almost all post-tribulationists acknowledge are taught in the Old Testament.

But we must go further. Suppose, as post-tribulationists contend, that the apostles themselves were ignorant of the pretribulational rapture of the church. I don't believe that Paul was ignorant of it. Peter, perhaps. The Old Testament did speak of two advents of Christ, but not of three, for this doctrine of the rapture is among those “mysteries” which concern the church alone, which were not revealed in the Old Testament, and which were revealed to the church primarily through Paul. Peter evidently did not know everything which Paul knew, for he speaks of things hard to be understood in Paul's epistles. As for John, I don't know how he could have been ignorant of it, at least not after he received the Apocalypse. But suppose the apostles were all ignorant of it. What of it? We know that the Old Testament prophets, the very men who wrote the prophecies of the two advents of Christ, were ignorant of the distinction between them. But the fact remains that they did ignorantly write of those two comings, and what they wrote in those prophecies does in fact necessitate the distinction of which they themselves were ignorant. And if the apostles themselves (or some of them) were ignorant of the distinction between Christ's coming for the church and his coming to judge the world, that cannot change the fact that what they wrote necessitates that distinction.

Post-tribulationists may argue with great strength that the coming of Christ for his church and his coming to judge the world are nowhere explicitly distinguished in the New Testament. I grant that they are not, but I argue in turn that the two comings of Christ which are confessedly foretold in the Old Testament are nowhere explicitly distinguished there. “What manner of time” was the grand difficulty into which the prophets themselves searched. In this matter there is not one whit of difference between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy, and it is certainly unfair for post-tribulationists to pose as an insuperable difficulty in the New Testament that which they cannot but acknowledge to be a fact in the Old Testament. Moreover, I insist further that this is fully consistent with the normal way of Scripture. It is the normal way of Scripture to decline to spell out explicitly those things which are nevertheless surely to be believed among us. It reveals enough to us to lead us to those things as the proper and necessary conclusions from what Scripture says, but the things themselves are not explicitly revealed. Between the things which the Scriptures say and the conclusions which are to be legitimately drawn from those things, there may lie a long and laborious process of reasoning, a diligent “searching into” the difficulties presented to us by the facts and statements of Scripture. This, Peter informs us, the prophets of the Old Testament did. This Darby did also, and was led by what the Scriptures say to the true solution of the difficulty, the divinely intended conclusion of the matter. Before Darby's day there had been but little “searching into” these matters. The whole prophetic scheme had been so vitiated by unbelief and allegorical interpretation that men were unable to understand or ask the proper questions, and so were totally incapable of finding the answers. When men began to take prophecy at face value and believe it, new difficulties arose, which never could have been felt by those who spiritualized away the plain revelations of the prophetic Scriptures. Feeling those difficulties, they began to “search into what or what manner of time the Spirit did signify,” when it spoke of the coming of Christ to take his saints to the place prepared for them in heaven, and the coming of Christ to judge the world and establish his kingdom on earth. Thus “searching,” they were led unerringly to the distinction which pretribulationists hold today.

It is not my purpose in this article to detail all of the things in the prophetic writings which necessitate that distinction, though there are many such things. I just touch upon a few points. Jude says, “Behold, the Lord cometh, with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgement upon all.” Now if the Lord comes with his saints, this indicates that he has previously come for them, and taken them up to himself. But further, and of much more weight, if he executes judgement upon all at his coming----judgement which consists of “sudden destruction,...and they shall not escape”----and if this coming is supposed to be the same coming as that in which his saints are caught up to him----the establishment of his kingdom on the earth is then precluded as an impossibility. We then see all of the godly caught up and glorified, and at the same time all of the ungodly judged and destroyed, and who is left to inherit the kingdom? Not one soul. These facts alone absolutely necessitate the distinction for which we contend. The fact that the Jewish economy obtains during the seventieth week of Daniel points to the same thing. The crowned elders in heaven before the first seal is opened in the Book of Revelation require the same conclusion----for none receive their crowns until he comes who says, “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me.” (Rev. 22:12). Other facts could be mentioned, but these will suffice to indicate that however new the pretribulational doctrines may be, they are not based upon cunningly devised fables, but are conclusions drawn upon solid and substantial evidence----evidence, indeed, which requires those conclusions.


May Christians Go Into Debt?

by Glenn Conjurske

“Owe no man any thing.” ----Romans 13:8.

This scripture is so plain that it ought to need no comment. Yet many Christians in our day are so accustomed to explaining away Scripture that they have never been able to arrive at the plain and obvious meaning of these words. They have reasoned and explained and twisted and turned and contorted and wrested the words until they have been made to mean anything but “Owe no man any thing.” Now I really suspect that if they were but willing to obey this scripture, they would very soon discover that it means “Owe no man any thing.” I have often heard it objected that if we did not go into debt, we could not buy a house. And I have always given one uniform answer to this objection: God has not told me to buy a house, but he has told me to “Owe no man any thing.” (I do not own a house, by the way, but rent one.) It may be that it will cost something to simply obey this plain command of God----it may be that you will be forced to rent (and live in) a place you would rather not, for a price you would rather not pay----but what of that? Where did the modern church ever get the notion that there was no cost involved in obedience to God? We are “pilgrims and strangers on the earth.” This is the present portion of faith, whether we can afford to buy a house or not.

Common sense (and I should think common honesty also) requires us to take these words in their plain and obvious sense. But the modern church has attempted to redefine the word “owe” in such a way as to make it mean to fail to pay what we owe. This is expressed in the New International Version (the most unfaithful of the popular modern versions) by “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another”----a rendering which is false upon its face, for if language means anything it gives us permission to leave the debt of love unpaid----to leave it “outstanding.” It is apparently in an endeavor to avoid this stark meaning of their rendering that they thrust in the word “continuing,” without the shadow of a reason in the original. This rendering is a faithful expression of the unfaithfulness of modern evangelicalism, but it is not a translation of the word of God.

Not thus did the saints of the past deal with this text. They did not explain away its plain meaning, though many of them seemed to regard the precept as merely good advice, and not as a binding commandment. And it is true that with the whole Bible before us we cannot regard debt as something sinful in itself. But there are a number of things which were allowed under former dispensations, and which therefore cannot be regarded as in themselves sinful, which are yet forbidden to Christians----the spiritual nature of the present dispensation requiring things of us which were not required of others. Debt is one such thing. Outward adorning of our persons is another. The Old Testament contains cautions against debt, such as “The borrower is servant to the lender,” but it contains no precept forbidding it. The New Testament, however, does contain such a precept, and a true spirit of devotedness to Christ will not revert to the lower standard of the old economy merely because it is convenient to do so. Yet we can make room for the honest ignorance of those who have regarded the prohibition of the New Testament in no other light than the cautions of the Old Testament. Such a one was George Whitefield, who was most of the time in debt himself, yet never dreamed of trying thus to explain away the plain meaning of this text. With obvious reference to Romans 13:8, he wrote to John Wesley in 1747, “I hope ere long to be delivered from my outward embarrassments. I long to owe no man any thing but love. This is a debt, Reverend Sir, I shall never be able to discharge to you, or your brother.” We believe that the eminent saints who have taken “Owe no man any thing” at face value in its obvious sense, but regarded it merely as good advice, were of an altogether different spirit from those of the modern church who seek to explain away its plain meaning, in order to justify their own course----especially when the reasons for their debt may usually be summed up in the one word “worldliness.”

I will not contend that debt is evil in itself, or that it is always wrong. Sometimes people are driven to it by what they regard as sheer necessity, as David was driven to eat the shewbread, which it was not lawful for him to eat. Sometimes people are forced into it by circumstances beyond their control, and their debt may rather be regarded as their misfortune than their sin. Yet I will affirm that deliberate going into debt is usually against faith. To borrow money to procure what God has as yet withheld from me is of the same character as it was for Abraham to take Hagar into his bosom in order to obtain the promised seed. It was not of God, and it was not of faith. The way of faith is to wait patiently for the Lord, and to do without what he does not give----though I do not mean by this to exclude means which God himself sanctions, such as honest industry and frugality.

Numerous examples might be given to show that debt is unwise, for many eminent saints have suffered much because they have chosen to borrow, or to make themselves surety for others who have borrowed. My purpose here, however, is not to show that debt is unwise, but to show that it is forbidden.

The first thing we must deal with is the meaning of the word “owe,” which many in the modern church have sought to redefine. The word is ojfeivlw in the Greek, and is defined as follows by standard Greek lexicons. (I cite only those definitions which are pertinent, or closely related to those which are pertinent. In other connections the word has other connotations, such as “I ought” or “would that!”----but these are nothing to the purpose).

Liddell and Scott: “to owe, have to pay or account for, to be debtor, and absol[utely], to be in debt; to be bound to render.”

Pickering: “to owe, to be indebted to, to be under an obligation, to be bound by duty, necessity, etc.”

Thayer: “to owe; prop[erly] to owe money, be in debt for; absol[utely] to be a debtor, be bound; to be under obligation, bound by duty or necessity, to do something.”

Cremer: “to be indebted, to owe; to be under obligation to; to have to pay a money debt.”

Abbott-Smith: “to owe, be a debtor; to be bound or obliged.”

Arndt & Gingrich: “owe, be indebted; lit., of financial debts: owe someth. to someone; fig., owe, be indebted (to) someone (for) someth.; be obligated.”

“Owe no man any thing,” then, is a true and accurate translation, and really cannot be improved upon. If any are disposed to defect from this to an explanatory paraphrase, they ought at least to give a true and faithful paraphrase. Such would be “Be in debt to no man for anything.” But “Let no debt remain outstanding” is inaccurate and unfaithful, unless indeed it be taken to mean “have no standing debts,” or in other words, no debts at all----but neither the framers or the users of this version would allow such a meaning.

I proceed to give a number of statements from men of God of past generations. From these it will plainly appear that they took “Owe no man any thing” at face value in its plain and obvious meaning, and obeyed it.

George Müller (l805-l898). “`Sell that ye have, and give alms.' Luke xii.33. `Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.' Rom. xiii.8. It may be said, surely these passages cannot be taken literally, for how then would the people of God be able to pass through the world. The state of mind enjoined in John vii.17, will cause such objections to vanish. WHOSOEVER IS WILLING TO ACT OUT these commandments of the Lord LITERALLY, will, I believe, be led with me to see that, to take them LITERALLY, is the will of God.----Those who do so take them will doubtless often be brought into difficulties, hard to the flesh to bear, but these will have a tendency to make them constantly feel that they are strangers and pilgrims here, that this world is not their home, and thus to throw them more upon God, who will assuredly help us through any difficulty into which we may be brought by seeking to act in obedience to His word.”

“I would just observe, that we never contract debts, which we believe to be unscriptural (according to Romans xiii,8;) and therefore we have no bills with our tailor, shoemaker, grocer, butcher, baker, &c.; but all we buy we pay for in ready money. The Lord helping us, we would rather suffer privation, than contract debts.”

C. H. Mackintosh (1820-1896). “We take Romans xiii.8 in its plain, broad sense. We believe it teaches us to owe no man anything. Would to God it were more fully carried out. It is painful beyond expression to see the sad lack of conscience among professors, as to the question of debt. We would solemnly call upon all our readers, who are in the habit of going in debt, to judge themselves in this matter, and to get out of a false position at once. It is better far to sit down to a dry crust, and to wear a shabby coat, than live well and dress well at our neighbour's expense. We regard it as positive unrighteousness. Oh! for an upright mind!”

“The first grand business of a person in debt is to get out of it. We must be just before we are generous.”

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). At a meeting to raise funds for his Metropolitan Tabernacle, while it was being built, Spurgeon said, “Of all things I do abhor a debt. I shall feel like a guilty sneaking sinner if I come here with even a hundred pounds debt upon the building. `Owe no man anything,' will stare me in the face whenever I try to address you. I do not believe that Scripture warrants any man in getting into debt. It may stimulate the people to raise more money; but, after all, attention to the simple Word of God is infinitely better than looking at the end which may be attained by the slightest deviation from it. Let us not owe a farthing to any living soul; and when we come here for the opening services, let us find that all has been paid.”

“The Bible never tells us to get out of debt; it tells us we are not to have any.”

J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1895). Hudson Taylor resigned from the Mission Society under which he had gone out to China, because it was in debt. His account follows. “During the latter part of this year my mind was greatly exercised about continued connection with my Society, it being frequently in debt. Personally I had always avoided debt, and kept within my salary, though at times only by very careful economy. Now there was no difficulty in doing this, for my income was larger, and the country being in a more peaceful state, things were not so dear. But the Society itself was in debt. The quarterly bills which I and others were instructed to draw were often met by borrowed money, and a correspondence commenced which terminated in the following year by my resigning from conscientious motives.

“To me it seemed that the teaching of God's Word was unmistakably clear: `Owe no man any thing.' To borrow money implied, to my mind, a contradiction of Scripture----a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and a determination to get for ourselves what He had not given. Could that which was wrong for one Christian to do be right for an association of Christians? Or could any amount of precedents make a wrong course justifiable? If the Word taught me anything, it taught me to have no connection with debt. I could not think that God was poor, that He was short of resources, or unwilling to supply any want of whatever work was really His. It seemed to me that if there were any lack of funds to carry on work, then to that degree, in that special development, or at that time, it could not be the work of God. To satisfy my conscience I was therefore compelled to resign connection with the Society which had hitherto supplied my salary.”

R. A. Torrey (1856-1928). Speaking of a time when he lived without any salary or stated income, Torrey says, “Never one penny of debt was incurred for one single hour; I had taken the ground that I owe no man anything either for myself, the family, or the work, for running into debt is not trusting God, it is disobeying God, for He says, `Owe no man anything.”'

These quotations are all from men well known and highly esteemed in the church of God. It is evident from their words that they took “Owe no man any thing” at face value, believed it, obeyed it, and regarded it as wrong to do otherwise. Know, then, ye Baptists, who admire C. H. Spurgeon, that if he must live in your house or preach in your church, he must regard himself as a “guilty sneaking sinner.” Know, ye open Brethren, that George Müller would rather have suffered privation than to borrow money as many of you do. Know, ye exclusive Brethren, that C. H. Mackintosh regarded the course which many of you take as “positive unrighteousness.” Know, ye fundamentalists, that R. A. Torrey, the greatest of the fundamentalists, regarded contracting debts as “disobeying God.” These testimonies are clear enough, and so is the testimony of the apostle Paul: “Owe no man any thing.”

Those who have acted contrary to this scripture in the past may find themselves in a hard place. They may not be able to get out of debt at once, nor will reasonable men expect it of them, any more than we would expect a man who has been a glutton for twenty years to lose a hundred pounds in a day. We would, however, expect him to go to work at it in good earnest.

Chats from my Library
By Glenn Conjurske

My Card File Boxes

One of the first things I look for in buying certain kinds of books----such as histories----is to see whether the book has a good index. A good subject index (not merely an index of proper names) greatly increases the usefulness of a book, by enabling you to find what you want in it. And experience has taught me to make my own index to every book which I read, whether the book comes with an index or not. This I do by continually noting down items and their page numbers in the back or front fly leaves of the book as I read it. I use extra sheets of paper if I need them. In the rare event that I read a borrowed book, I make such an index on a sheet of paper, and file it away for the anticipated day when I may procure a copy for myself. I do not note down every item in the book, but any item which interests me----anything which I suppose I may ever wish to refer to again. In a very good book, such as the autobiographies of Peter Cartwright and Charles G. Finney, I will have several pages of entries in small handwriting. In the journals of John Wesley and Francis Asbury I have several pages in each volume. In a poor book I may have only a few entries. Experience, I say, has taught me this. In my early days I would often read some worthwhile thing, but fail to note it down, and in after times spend hours in searching for it, perhaps not even remembering what book I had read it in.

Now if an index to a book will greatly increase the value and usefulness of that book, why not an index to a library? My first card file box is in fact an index to my library. It came about this way:

I left Bible school with the strong impression that miracles are not for the present age. They ceased with the apostolic age, and we are not to expect them today. This impression was greatly strengthened the following year by the reading of Sir Robert Anderson's The Silence of God. But when I read books like John Wesley's Journal, A. J. Gordon's Ministry of Healing, and even A. C. Gaebelein's autobiography (Half a Century), it became plain to me that those miracles, which were not supposed to happen, occasionally did happen. I am well aware that at this point many Christians would simply deny the facts in order to maintain the doctrine, but I was not made of such stuff, and I knew that the men who related these miracles were men of sound sense and solid godliness. I therefore took an index card and wrote “Miracles” at the top of it, and began to collect these scattered accounts together. Cards on other subjects followed, and the system has been growing ever since. Whenever I finish reading a book, I sit down with my cards, and transfer to them the notes which I have made in the book. I do not transfer all the notes----if I did, I would have numerous cards with but one entry----but only those on recurring and easily classified subjects. Each card has a subject heading at the top, and entries beneath it listing author, abbreviated title, and page numbers.

A glance through my cards would reveal such subjects as: Anointing with oil----Antinomianism----Baptism of Holy Spirit----Boldness in prayer----Camp meetings----Cannibalism----Church discipline----Debt----Dress & jewelry----Earnestness----Extemporaneous preaching----Fasting----Hardships----Inability----Invitation----Irresistible preaching----Itinerant preaching----Jesting----King James Version----Love of sin----Ministerial education----Ministerial incompetence----Music----Non-resistance----Ordination, refused or never received----Persecution----Poverty----Rain in answer to prayer----Repentance----Reproach----Riches----Salvation from sin----Self-good as motive----Solitude----Tears in hearers----Tremble before preaching----Universal offer of salvation----Unpardonable sin----Visions, trances----Wine.

This list is incomplete, and intended only to be suggestive. Your subjects will depend on what most occupies your heart and mind. In the same file box I also have a set of biographical cards, on which I note references to persons. The usefulness of this simple system I have abundantly proved over and over. For example, though I quote from threescore and ten books in my Good Preaching, I actually wrote that book in one week, and that without doing any preparatory research for it. All of the “research” had been done little by little over the years, and all the fruits of it were ready to hand in my card file box.

But I must speak of my second card file “box,” (now grown to a couple of large file drawers) which is my card catalog. For years I felt no need for any such thing. I knew what books I had, and where they were. I have read of both C. H. Spurgeon and George W. Truett, that though they had very large libraries, they could find any book they owned in the dark. Truett's wife took it upon herself on one occasion, while he was away preaching, to arrange his books for him in alphabetical order----after which he could find nothing. To me alphabetical order on a bookshelf is not order at all, but the most perfect confusion. Nathan Bangs (whether a history by him or a biography of him) belongs on a bookshelf with Francis Asbury and company, not with Robert Barclay (a Quaker), nor with Daniel Baker and Albert Barnes (two Presbyterians). Gibson's Year of Grace, a book on revival, may do very well with John Gillies, but not with John Gill!

Alphabetical order is just fine, however, in a card catalog, and when we began to traverse the country in our old school bus, and I must remove my books from their shelves, and put them in drawers and boxes, where I could not see them, and where they were grouped more according to size than subject----I then felt the need for a card catalog. I made one, and have since added to it all new books as I get them. I have found it to be of great use when taking trips out of town to shop for books. I take my card catalog along, and this prevents me from buying duplicates in the cases (not so rare as they used to be) in which I cannot remember if I have a book or not. But my cards tell me more than merely which books I possess. They tell me what edition I have, the publisher, date, and number of pages, whether a book is defective, whether it is a paperback, etc. This knowledge may enable me to procure a better or fuller edition, a better copy, a missing volume of a set, etc.

A third card file box I have started more recently----my bibliography box. Here I keep a list of books I am hunting for, in alphabetical order, to which I may add at any time. But the purpose goes much deeper than this. Many authors continually reference their authorities in a very abbreviated form, such as “Lednum's History” or “Smith's History of the Christian Church.” I am interested in these books, but cannot learn so much as the author's first name (though my Cyclopædia of Methodism, Baptist Encyclopædia, or some similar work, will often help me here). To get this information I must travel to a good public library and hunt through the huge volumes in the bibliography room. Thus “Lednum's History” becomes “Lednum, John----A History of the Rise of Methodism in America. Philadelphia: published by the author, 1859, 435 pp.” Now I know what it is I am looking for. (And now you know what it is I am looking for----information I rarely divulge to anyone.) A pleasant side benefit of this business has been that in searching out one title by an author, I have often discovered others by him, which I did not know existed.

But one word of exhortation: the projects which I have described in this chat can be of no possible use to you unless you are committed to the cause of Christ in such a way that you are determined to spend your money in procuring good books, and your time in reading them. The pitiful little shelves of shallow modern paperbacks which preachers nowadays refer to as their libraries are a disgrace to the ministry, not to say a disgrace to Christianity. Oh, for some men of God, who will dig for knowledge and wisdom as for hid treasures!


Prove All Things

by Glenn Conjurske

(A Sermon Preached on Nov. 8, l992, Recorded, Transcribed, and Revised.)

Open your Bibles with me to I Thessalonians, chapter 5, and the twenty-first verse. It says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Father, teach us this morning. Open our minds, and Father, give us grace to be able and to be willing to do what this verse commands us to do. Amen.

This verse says, “Prove all things,” and “hold fast that which is good.” Now “prove” is an old English word which has a different sense in our day. What it means is to examine, to test, to try----to put to the test. I'm going to give you quickly a few other scriptures where this word is used, so you can see what the word means.

I Corinthians 3:13. “Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is.” That word “try” is the same word as is translated “prove” in I Thes. 5:21. The fire is going to try it----that is, put it to the test, to find out if it's good or bad, to find out if it's gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble.

I Corinthians 11:28. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” “Examine”----the same word as “prove.”

I John 4:1. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” “Try” the spirits----the same word as is translated “prove” in I Thes. 5:21. It means, put them to the test, examine them, test them, check them out.

Now back to I Thes. 5:21. What he commands you to do here is to test, to try, to examine, to put to the test----what? “All things.” Now that is a pretty big order. Test all things. Try, examine, all things. How do you know that it's right for you to do certain things? You don't, unless you have tried it. Try all things, and hold fast that which is good. What happens here is that we are born into a world in which the multitudes have turned away from God, and are doing their own will, their own thing, whatever they please themselves. We grow up in such a world, and we grow up doing essentially as the rest of the world does. Now we get converted. We give up our own will. We turn our backs upon the world. We turn to God, and say, “I'm not going to do my own will any more. I'm going to do your will. I'm not going to go my own way any more: I'm going to go God's way.” And this process----proving all things----is how you discover what is God's way. You grew up doing the same things essentially that the rest of the world does. When you were converted, you still kept doing many things that the rest of the world does. How do you know you ought to be doing those things? How do you know they are right? Well, most people take custom as their guide. I'm not talking about the world now. I'm talking about Christians. Most people take custom as their guide, and they do as everyone else does----and therefore may be doing a whole bushel basket full of things that are wrong, that are not according to Scripture, and don't even know that those things are wrong.

Why do you dress the way you dress? Why do you eat the way you eat? Have you proved those things, and determined them to be good, and therefore held them fast? Or do you just do as everybody else does----do as you always did? How do you furnish your house? What kind of activities do you engage in? Is custom your guide, or the Bible?

Now we have a command here to put to the test all things, and I'm going to try to suggest to you this morning what that means. All things means----little things, big things----right things and wrong things. You see, we have no business to assume that anything is right. We are bound to put it to the test, and of course the way to put it to the test is by the light of Scripture. You are just as bound to put right things to the test as you are wrong things. How else are you going to know that they are right? That's implied in what the verse says. It says, Try all things, and hold fast to that which is good. That means, of course, reject that which isn't good.

Now I think if there were some way we could get this text of Scripture burned into the modern church, the modern church would be turned inside out, revolutionized. It seems to me that most Christians go through their whole lives, and never act on what this verse commands. Custom is their guide. Why do you do such and such things? Well, that's the way our church does things. Well, how do you know it's right? Why does everybody do just what their church does? It is just assumed that it is right.

Now it's easy enough to point the finger at the Catholics or the Lutherans or the liberals or somebody, and say, this is the way they think----but evangelicals are very little different. You see, when you have this principle burned into your soul, to test, and try, and examine all things, the first thing that it does is that it makes you suspicious of everything. You don't accept anything, unless you have first checked it out, and proved it to be good. That may be a long, drawn-out process, because the fact of the matter is, if you are a babe in Christ, you may not have the spiritual capacity to be able to get to the bottom of every practical question. I don't think I'm a babe in Christ, and I may lack that ability in some things. But at least you do all you can towards it.

Now what kind of things should we put to the test? All things. Let me suggest, in the first place, this means to put to the test all things that everybody else is doing. One of the great difficulties of the modern church is that it makes custom its standard. If everybody else is doing it, then the church does it, without testing it to find out if it is right or good. Why do you celebrate Christmas, if you do? (I hope you don't.) Well, I grew up celebrating Christmas. Everybody does it. Therefore it's right? Test it out. Find out. How do you test it? Well, first of all see what the Bible says. What does the Bible say about Christmas? Nothing. Have any of you ever seen a little tract entitled “Everything the Bible has to say about infant baptism”----and you open it up, and it's blank? Why don't the Baptists publish one like that about Christmas? Or Easter? But you see, most folks accept custom as the standard of their practice, and never prove all things. The things that everybody else does are assumed to be right. Now let me just drop a little hint in your ear on this. If you want to take that kind of ground you should reverse it. The fact of the matter is: the things that everybody else does are more likely to be wrong than right. If you want to make an assumption, assume that the things everybody does are wrong, rather than right. It would more probably be true, though not necessarily. There are some things that everybody does that are right, too----everybody eats and drinks and breathes, and there is nothing wrong with those things. In fact, there's something wrong with quitting.

The things that everybody does. The observation of holidays. It never enters most people's minds to question whether the thing is right or wrong. Why not? Why does it never enter people's heads? I'm talking about Christians. Why does it never enter their heads to question whether it is right or wrong? Because their standard is wrong. Their standard is custom rather than the Word of God. Why is it that when young Christian folks get married, why is it that the bride goes out and gets a wedding dress? And the groom goes out and gets a tuxedo? Why do they do that? Custom. It's what everybody else does, therefore it must be right. I tell you it isn't right. It's a waste of God's money. I got married about 25 years ago, and my bride did not have a wedding dress. You can go home and weep for her if you want, and write her a letter of condolence, but she did not have a wedding dress. She got married in the same clothes that she wore on other days. By the way, so did I. Custom was not my guide. She didn't have a wedding ring, either, by the way. You have a wedding ring? Why do you have one? Well, just because everybody else does. Did you ever stop to put that to the test, and ask, Is this right or wrong? What does the Bible say about it? What principles of the Bible are at stake? Where did this idea of wedding rings come from? I told you about this book by Francis Wayland that I was reading this morning. I just happened to read in it this morning, when he talks about the evil example of some other denominations----the evil influence upon the Baptists that came from following the example of other denominations. He wrote this in 1857, and he said, “I learn that some of our brethren are introducing the ceremony of giving a ring in marriage.” All of the poor, unfortunate Baptist brides went without wedding rings before the 1850's, and then the worldly among them introduced them. Of course now it's universal. Where did it come from? From the Church of Rome----part of their sacrament. The Puritans opposed it. The Baptists had nothing to do with it, but somehow the Church has sunk into a place where custom has become the guide rather than Scripture, and folks merely accept everything that the rest of the world does without questioning it. Now that is the real evil. If you once learn to prove all things----that means question all things----put everything to the test----accept nothing merely because the rest of the world does it, then you are on the right track to getting straight in your life.

Well what about “all things” that the whole church does? You need to question those, too. The whole church can be wrong just as well as the whole world. I'm not saying purposely wrong, but ignorantly. There are things in our day that the whole church is wrong on, which the whole church was right on a couple hundred years ago, but the church has drifted down into the world. Plain dress you know used to be the earmark of every godly movement in history. I just happened to read this in Wayland's book. He said the time was when you could immediately spot a Baptist or a Methodist by their clothes, because they dressed plainly. You can't do that any more. I guess you couldn't any more in Wayland's day, which was over a hundred years ago. Now the church and the world dress just alike, generally speaking.

Well I want to suggest something else to you. You'll have to try, prove, put to the test, question all things that great men and men of God have done. There's an old proverb that says, Great men may greatly err, and that is the truth. You need to put to the test all the things that great men do, and things that men of God do. And that includes the things that great soul winners do. You know I have heard this kind of thing in speaking of men that are rightly esteemed and looked up to: you try to question something that some prominent preacher does or says, and folks will come back with, “Oh, there's never been a soul winner like him! Look at all the souls he's winning.” And this is taken as proof that what he is doing is right. It doesn't prove anything at all, except maybe that God is merciful. We ought to question the things that great men do. We ought to question the things that great preachers do, great soul winners, preachers that can make your heart burn. And you know, this is where the difficulty comes in. And it could be a difficultly right here, if I ever get to be a preacher that can make your heart burn. I've seen this type of thing too often. Folks will become impressed, maybe enamored, maybe enthralled, with a preacher that can stand up and preach and make their hearts burn, and then they go on and swallow everything he says. Half of it might be wrong. We need to put to the test everything that great men and good men do and teach. Well, of course, this implies you have to dig into the Bible. How can you who may happen to be a babe in Christ, or a very ignorant and weak believer----how can you put to the test the things that great men, who are far above you, do? Well, you can. It's going to require some serious digging, and humility, and growth in grace and knowledge. But it's your responsibility to do it.

We ought to put to the test all things that good and great men do, and you ought to put to the test all things that successful men do. The argument from success is one of the biggest deceptions in the modern church. Sometimes the reason things are successful is precisely because they are not right. They succeed with the wrong kind of people. You can bring the world into the church, and it will make the church successful----make the church grow in numbers----make the church grow in enthusiasm, and make the church decline in holiness, and devotedness to Christ. The argument from success is not worth anything. There may be things that will actually apparently produce the right kind of success. Not only success in numbers, and in enthusiasm, but even success in spiritual things----real, solid, spiritual success. You ought to put those to the test, too. You know why? Because a good man with good motives may adopt wrong methods----may take a wrong course, and have good success in it. But I will say this: if he had taken the right course he would have had better success. Success doesn't prove anything. Isaiah, you know, took the right course, and he wasn't very successful. God told him to preach, and he said, How long? And God said, “Until the cities are wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.” He wasn't very successful, but he was right.

Now God's way quite often takes longer. There may be greater success in God's way in the end, but in the mean time the world's way will gain faster more apparent success. George Whitefield says, “When our Lord has anything great to do, he is generally a great while bringing it about, and many unaccountable dark providences generally intervene.” That's true. And the fellow who's doing it his own way may have success before God's chosen instrument ever gets through the back side of the desert. But God's way will be more successful in the end. Paul says, “As a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation.” And, by the way, whatever you may think of me being a wise master builder, that has been the thing that I have concentrated on, and worked at, and aimed at, for the last six years here----to lay a good foundation. It is the absolute, most important part of the building. Now there are a lot of churches that may have more to show for their labors than we have here, but they don't have a solid foundation. They've got numbers without spirituality. Growth without depth. It takes a while to lay a foundation. Takes time. But the end will prove that it is God's way.

So we have to put to the test the thing that works. There are things that work that are not necessarily of God----not necessarily the best, just because they work. On that basis, you know, you can bring into the church every kind of worldliness under the sun, and there are churches right now all around us that are doing exactly that. How are we going to keep the young people? Parties, games, banquets----worldliness. It may work, apparently, but it's not of God.

We ought also to put to the test all of those things that have been established in the church of God for years. I want you to turn with me to II Kings, chapter 18. We'll see a man of God who evidently did put something to the test----something that had been established among the people of God for centuries, and he overturned it and got rid of it. II Kings, chapter 18, and verse 3: “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and break in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan”----which means a piece of brass. Oh, he had a brave spirit, to take this thing that the people of God had been worshipping for centuries, and call it a piece of brass. That's what it was. Not a god, a piece of brass. I'm sure he incurred the wrath of a lot of people for that word. But how does it happen that this thing had been worshipped, and folks had burnt incense to this thing for centuries, and none of the godly prophets or kings had overturned it? How could it escape them? You see, whenever a real prophet of God comes on the scene and begins to point his finger at this or that----this is wrong----that is wrong----this ought not to be done----the people always raise up the cry, and say, “What are you saying? Are you saying you know better than all the godly preachers and doctors and fathers in the church for the last thousand years? This thing has been done for a thousand years, and nobody has said it was wrong before. Who do you think you are? How does it happen that none of the godly kings.....”----how does it happen that this thing escaped the notice of David? It says here that Hezekiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David did. But here he went beyond David. Why didn't David get rid of this thing? Why didn't all the former prophets get rid of this thing? Don't know. But the fact that something has been established among the people of God for centuries does not prove that it is right. It may be very wrong. Sunday schools have been established among the people of God for the last couple hundred of years anyway, but I do not believe they're right. You can't find any trace of such a thing in the Bible. Of course, it is a rather modern thing. It never existed till a couple hundred years ago. You want to stir up a hornet's nest? Go into some modern churches and tell them that Sunday schools are wrong. Tell them they are not of God. You'll get the same thing that Hezekiah no doubt got from calling the brasen serpent a piece of brass. But you see people just accept what everybody does, and don't question it. Now the text of my sermon this morning says, question it! Put it to the test, try it, examine it, and if it's good, hold it fast. If it's not good, it's implied, of course, reject it. Put to the test the things that the whole world does. Put to the test the things that the whole church does. Put to the test the little things, the right things, the wrong things, the things that have been established in the church for the last two hundred years or the last thousand years----put them to the test.

Next I want to point out to you another thing you should put to the test, and that is those things which have been established in the church by the men of God. Great men may greatly err, and you'll see an example of that in the book of II Kings, the 23rd chapter. II Kings, chapter 23, verse 10. Here we see Josiah acting, and it says, “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, did the king beat down, and brake them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men.” Now here's something that Solomon had established, and it was something wrong. Solomon, the great king, the greatest king, of Israel, who had wisdom that no man before or since had, who was blessed by his God, and “beloved of his God,” as Nehemiah says. Here is something that Solomon had established, and Josiah said, it doesn't matter if Solomon or an angel from heaven established it, it's wrong. And he broke it to pieces and beat it to dust. Josiah took the Word of God for his standard.

Now I'm going to suggest one thing that's a little more difficult than all these. It's not so hard to put to the test everything that everybody does, or the thing that the whole church does, the thing that great men of God have done, the thing that works, the thing that's been established for a millennium in the church of God, or the things that have been established by men of God. It's not so hard to put all those things to the test, as it is one more thing I'm going to mention, and that is, the things that you love. You know I had an experience one time with a very godly girl in this congregation. She had plans to do a certain thing which I didn't think she ought to do. I didn't say much to her, but I took her aside one day, and I said, “Why are you going to do this thing?” And she burst into tears, and she said, “Because I want to.” Of course it was something everybody else does. No reason to think there is anything wrong with it----until you start putting it to the test. And she put it to the test, and she didn't do it, either. She wanted to. I think that's one of the main reasons that people fail to prove all things. Don't want to change. We're called upon to prove all things, put them all to the test, and examine them, whether they're a pleasant thing or unpleasant. Whether they're things we want to do, or things we don't want to do. Some things are easy to give up, you know. Didn't want to do it in the first place. But some things you want to do. Those are harder to give up.

Now then, the result of this is to hold fast that which is good. Even if you have to hold it fast all by yourself, which may well be the case. And of course, on the opposite side, reject the things that aren't good, even if we have to reject them all alone, while all the rest of the world is doing it, and you've got to be different. This will be hard, but I'll tell you this: it wasn't easy for Christ to go to the cross, either. I don't know that it was easy for him to empty himself of all the glories of heaven, and come down here, and live a life of suffering, and die a death of suffering. It wasn't necessarily easy, but he did that for you. And everything that Christ gave up for you was good, and pure, and holy, and right, and proper. He never gave up anything that was wrong----didn't have anything wrong in his hands to give up. It was all good, and he gave it all up anyway. All he asks you to do is give up what is wrong. Hold fast that which is good. Now we just need to get this text burned into our souls. Prove all things. It's not necessarily something we should consciously think. We ought to get beyond that. It ought to become your second nature to test all things. Never receive anything just because everybody does it. Never receive anything because a good man teaches it. Never receive it because it's been done for a thousand years. Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.

Editorial Policies

Old articles are reprinted without alteration (except for corrections of printing errors), unless stated otherwise. The editor inserts articles by other writers if they are judged profitable for scriptural instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own views are to be taken from his own writings.