Making Ourselves Poor
by Glenn Conjurske
A Sermon Preached on Jan. 31, l993
----Recorded, Transcribed, & Revised
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Proverbs, the thirteenth chapter.
In verse 7 we read, There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing;
there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
I was talking to a relative of mine some years ago about the fact that
poverty has generally been one of the marks of the true church. And as
I was speaking of these things, (she obviously in disagreement with me),
she said to me, Well, the Bible never tells us to make ourselves poor.
I didn't answer her, but I began to think about it, and I finally concluded,
yes, the Bible does tell us to make ourselves poor. It doesn't exactly
command us to, but it certainly advises us to. Our text tells that there
is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing, but there is that maketh
himself poor, yet hath great riches. Now if you read this verse with an
unprejudiced mind, you will obviously have to come to the conclusion,
It is evidently profitable to make yourself poor. The man that makes himself
rich doesn't have anything. The man that makes himself poor has great
riches. Therefore, it's evidently profitable to make yourself poor.
Obviously this is talking about two different kinds of riches. The man
who makes himself rich in the things of this earth has nothing
that's enduring ----nothing that's worth having, whereas the man that makes
himself poor in the things of this life may have great riches. He may
have that inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not
away, reserved in heaven for him ----the enduring substance which is not
seen with the mortal eye ----great riches there, though he makes himself
Now the thing that I want to point out here is, it doesn't merely say
that there is a man who is poor, and yet has great riches: it says, There
is that maketh himself poor, and yet hath great riches. This is not
the man who is poor merely by circumstances beyond his control
the man who is poor by accident or by providence ----but the man who maketh
himself poor. And so I believe that when this person said to me, The
Bible never tells us to make ourselves poor, she was mistaken. It recommends
it. It advises it ----not only in this scripture, by the way. But in this
text, before we leave it, observe that there are two kinds of people:
one who is rich yet poor, and one who is poor yet rich. Neither of them
got that way by accident. The rich man is rich because he makes himself
rich. The poor man is poor because he makes himself poor.
Now let's turn over to the New Testament, and look at some examples of
this. In James 2:5 we see a man who is poor, yet rich: Hath not God
chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom
which he hath promised to them that love him? Here is a man who is poor
in this world, but rich in faith. He doesn't have any riches in his hands,
but he is rich in the expectation of them. That's faith. And he's an heir
of the kingdom. His riches are not yet in his hands, and they are not
of this world, but yet he has great riches, laid up in heaven for him.
There are two different kinds of riches
----the spiritual and the mundane.
And the man who is making himself rich in the earthly, mundane, temporal
things, has nothing, while the man who is making himself poor in the mundane
things, has great riches. God, this text tells us, has chosen the poor
of this world.
Now at this point somebody will always come along and say, But, it's not
necessarily so. You don't necessarily have to make yourself poor in this
world, in order to have those great riches. You can have both. Well, without
stating it as an absolute impossibility that you can have both, I will
say that the Scriptures generally imply otherwise. When the rich man came
to Christ and said, What must I do to inherit eternal life, he said, Sell
whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and take up the cross, and
follow me. And he went away sorrowful, because he had great riches.
He was one of these who made himself rich, but he had nothing of the true
riches. Now when Christ tells him what to do to get the true riches, he
tells him to part with the riches which he had. He didn't say, You can
keep these riches, and get those riches, too. What he told him to do is
to make himself poor.
Now if you'll turn over with me to Luke 12, you'll find that Christ preached
this doctrine on more than one occasion. In Proverbs 13:7 we see one making
himself rich, and yet having nothing, and another making himself poor,
and having great riches. In Luke 12 we see the same two things. Beginning
at verse 16, And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of
a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself,
saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater;
and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to
my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine
ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this
night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things
be, which thou hast provided. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself,
and is not rich toward God.
Here we see a plain example of a man who is making himself rich, laying
up treasures. Yet as a matter of fact he had nothing. The Scripture is
quite strong on this point. It says, There is that maketh himself rich,
yet hath nothing. It does not say, There is that maketh himself rich,
yet hath but little. It says he has nothing. This man in Luke 12 who
is making himself rich has nothing. He's going to be called into the presence
of God as a naked, empty-handed fool, with nothing, though he had laid
up for himself great riches on the earth. In case you didn't notice it,
the verse in Proverbs does not give us a strict parallelism. It does not
say, There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing, and there
is that maketh himself poor, yet hath everything. Neither does it say,
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath little, and there is that
maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. It does not give us a strict
parallelism. The man who makes himself poor of course does not have everything,
but he has something
----but the man who makes himself rich has nothing.
We see that in the rich man in Luke chapter 12, and you'll see it again
in Luke chapter 16, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Observe,
by the way, how often God uses a rich man as the prototype of a lost soul.
One of those examples is the rich man that we just referred to in
Luke 12. Another is the rich young ruler, which we referred to a little
bit ago. And here is another example in Luke 16, a certain rich man.
God names the poor man, Lazarus. He is a man who is known of God.
The rich man he doesn't name
----just calls him a rich man, and tells us
he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every
day. Do you think he got there by accident? No, he made himself rich.
He could have found something else to do with his money. Lazarus lay at
his gate hoping to be fed with the crumbs that fell from his table. He
could have done something to take care of poor Lazarus, but no, he just
let him lie there at his gate, with the dogs to lick his sores. And
it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into
Abraham's bosom. He was poor, but he had great riches. The rich man
died also, and was buried. And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.
He had nothing ----couldn't even get one drop of water to cool his tongue.
All he could get from Abraham was this word: Thou in thy lifetime receivedst
thy good things. Now if you can find some way to wiggle into the kingdom
of heaven, and still hold on to thy good things in thy lifetime, you
go ahead, but I'll tell you you are on mighty dangerous ground. The Bible
presents this matter as an either/or thing, not as a both/and thing. You
either make yourself poor and have great riches, or make yourself rich
and have nothing. In Luke 6:24 the Lord says, But woe unto you that
are rich, for ye have received your consolation.
But back to Luke 12. We saw here a man who made himself rich, and had
nothing, but Christ now gives us a prescription on the other side. He
tells us to make ourselves poor. He says in verse 33, Sell that ye have,
and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in
the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth
corrupteth. You want treasure in the heavens? Sell what you have, and
give alms! Sell what you have, and give the money away! Now doesn't that
look like making yourself poor? And the result is great riches. When you
sell what you have and give away the proceeds, what you do is to provide
for yourselves bags which wax not old
----a treasure in the heavens, secure
from all the exigencies of this world. You provide for yourself what the
Scripture calls an enduring substance. How do you get it? By making
yourself poor. Isn't that what it plainly says?
Now then, we see in Luke 12 that Christ very explicitly confirms in his
doctrine what Proverbs 13:7 says. There is that maketh himself rich,
yet hath nothing. There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
He also confirms this doctrine in the other scriptures which I referred
to. This is the doctrine of Christ. But Christ also confirmed this by
his example. You'll find this in II Corinthians, chapter 8. It says in
verse 9, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though
he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty
might be rich. As I said earlier, I do not know that I could contend
that the Bible commands us to make ourselves poor, but it advises us to.
In the verse just before the one I just read, he says, I speak not by
commandment, and in the verse immediately following, And herein I
give my advice, for this is expedient for you. He advises us. This is
profitable for us. Giving is not something sternly required, but a matter
of grace. Yet those who make themselves rich, instead of giving, have
no grace. Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he
was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. Paul holds him up here
as our example, and John says, He that saith he abideth in him ought
himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (I John 2:6).
Now consider two things: first, how rich he was, and then how poor he
made himself. He possessed all the glories of heaven
----streets of gold.
If you were going to write down the worth of a street of gold in dollars
and cents, you'd have a string of numbers as long as the street. But he
possessed all that. The earth and the fulness thereof, the sun, the moon,
the stars, the universe, the pearly gates, the many mansions, the worship
of the angels. He possessed it. But he made himself poor. He gave all
of that up. Philippians 2 tells you that though he was in the form of
God, he emptied himself ----literally, that's what the Greek says ----and
was made in the likeness of men. Then being found in fashion as a man,
he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of
the cross ----a criminal's death, a death of shame and agony. He gave up
all the glories of heaven, and came down here to become a man, and was
laid in a borrowed manger for a cradle when he was born, was laid in a
borrowed tomb when he died, and had no place where to lay his head while
he lived. And all this while he could have been walking on the streets
of gold in the midst of the many mansions, surrounded by the worshipping
throngs of holy angels, free from poverty and weariness and pain and reproach.
He made himself poor. And Paul says, Let this mind be in you, which
was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5). He made himself poor for your
sake. You make yourself poor for someone else's sake.
Now I want to describe what this means to make yourself poor. It has been
very well said that God does not look at how much you give. He looks at
how much you have left for yourself. I believe that is the absolute truth,
and I believe it's the doctrine of the Scriptures. You know, there was
a widow who had two mites. And Christ stood over against the treasury
in the temple, watching all the people put in, and it says there were
many who were rich who put in much
----and the Lord didn't take any notice
of it. You know why? They were rich. There was no sacrifice in their giving.
They put in much, but they had much more left for themselves. But then
comes this woman who has almost nothing ----just two mites, her whole living ----and
she put it all in, and had nothing left for herself. And immediately the
Lord took notice. Immediately he called his disciples around him, and
praised what she had done. And he told them that this poor widow had put
in more than they all ----more than the many who were rich, who had put
in much. In the Lord's eyes she had put in more than all of them put together ----and
all she had put in was two mites. The Lord didn't look at how much they
put in, he looked at how much they had left. There are many whom the world
calls philanthropists, who give great sums ----and God doesn't take any
notice of it at all. They don't make themselves poor to give. They just
give a little out of their abundance ----give without even feeling it.
Christ was rich, and made himself poor, and he says, Let this mind be
in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. The mind of him who had everything,
and gave it all up. You know, I get tired of modern Christianity. You
try to preach the Bible doctrine of self-denial, you try to preach to
people that they ought to give up this or that, and they always come back
with What's wrong with it?
----assuming that they shouldn't have to
give anything up unless there's something wrong with it. But the Bible
says, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being
in the form of God ---- Now let me ask you, What's wrong with being in
the form of God? Nothing. What's wrong with the glories of heaven? Nothing.
What's wrong with the golden streets and the pearly gates and the many
mansions? Nothing. But he gave it all up. Where would you be, where would
we be, if God the Father had come to his well-beloved Son, and said, Will
you give all of this up, for the sake of the perishing sinners on earth? ----and
the Son of God had looked up to the Father and said, What's wrong with
Back to II Corinthians 8. Earlier in this chapter he holds up the example
of the saints in Macedonia, How that in a great trial of affliction
the abundance of their joy and their DEEP POVERTY abounded unto the riches
of their LIBERALITY. For to their power I bear record, yea, and BEYOND
THEIR POWER they were willing of themselves, praying us with much intreaty
that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the
ministering to the saints. Here we see folks that are in deep poverty,
giving to their power, and beyond their power. Paul saw this. He saw their
deep poverty, and he saw that they literally could not afford to give
what they were giving, any more than the poor widow could afford to give
her whole living. Paul evidently therefore did not want to take the gift
----evidently tried to refuse it. And what was their response?
They prayed him with much intreaty that he would take the gift. Now there
is only one possible reason why they would have had to pray him with much
intreaty to take the gift. Paul did not want to take it. He saw that they
were in deep poverty, and that they were giving beyond their power. What
does that mean? I think the only thing it can mean is that they deprived
themselves of the necessities of life in order to give. They gave beyond
their power ----gave what they could not afford to give ----and pressed
Paul with much intreaty to take the gift. They were following the example
of the Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet made himself poor.
Now I'll tell you, if these same people had given the exact same amount
which they did give, but had given it out of abundant riches instead of
deep poverty, Paul would not have taken any notice of it. It would not
have been worth noticing. He didn't look at how much they gave: he looked
at how much they had left. They were not exactly making themselves poor,
for they were already in deep poverty. But they were making themselves
poorer, in order to meet somebody else's need.
Now the plain fact is this: the Bible does teach us to make ourselves
poor. This is the prescription which the Bible gives us by which to provide
for ourselves the great riches in the heavenly kingdom. Take that
mammon of unrighteousness which God has put into your hands, and use
it for the cause of Christ, and in so doing you will provide for yourself
bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens, where no thief approacheth,
nor rust corrupteth.
Now back once more to our text in the book of Proverbs. The text does
not speak merely of those who are rich, nor merely of those who are poor.
Some people are rich by no effort of their own, and some are poor by no
virtue of their own. The text does not speak of those who are rich or
poor, but of those who make themselves so. The question is not how much
you have in your pockets, but how it got there, and whether you are endeavoring
to add more to your pockets, or to give out what happens to be in them.
Paul speaks to those who are rich, and says, Charge them that are rich
in this world...that they DO GOOD, that they be RICH IN GOOD WORKS, READY
TO DISTRIBUTE, WILLING TO COMMUNICATE, laying up in store for themselves
a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on
eternal life. (I Tim. 6:17-19). In plain English, by making themselves
poor, those who are rich may lay up in store for themselves a good foundation
for the life to come. This is the plain doctrine of Christ and of Paul.
Those who refuse it shall find in the end that they have nothing.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- -----
by Glenn Conjurske
I am not of the opinion that denominational divisions are the unmitigated
evil that many suppose them to be. If they are an evil, they are a necessary
evil, and shall continue to be necessary until all the saints are perfected
in understanding. The conscientious Baptist, who believes that only such
persons as have repented of sin and believed the gospel are to be baptized
and admitted into the church, cannot join in church fellowship with those
who baptize infants and admit the unconverted into the church. Until the
latter forsake their error, the former cannot join with them. But the
latter cannot forsake their error, while they believe it to be the truth
(so it would seem) the most of them will hold their error as truth while
life shall last.
Certain hyperspiritual souls, unmindful that men are men, will step forward
at this point with a simple formula by which to perfect all the saints
in the truth. Let them by all means go forth through the church of God,
as flaming seraphs, and show us the practical workings of their easy formula,
and bring about the desired unity. Meanwhile Paul says, For there must
be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest
among you. (I Cor. 11:19). Must be is quite literally it is necessary.
Heresies is sects in the margin. Sects is the rendering of
the earlier English versions (Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Taverner, Great
Bible, and Bishops' Bible of 1568). The Geneva Bible and the Bishops'
of 1572 have heresies. It is the practical equivalent of the divisions
mentioned in the previous verse, as also in 3:3. However the word be translated,
it implies either wrong doctrine or a wrong spirit
----and Paul says it
is necessary that such divisions be among you. Necessary. It expresses
what must take place, while men continue to be men.
Even those who most abhor the evil of denominationalism acknowledge that
it is a necessary evil
----necessary, at least, until the whole church
of God will join with their denomination. Even the Plymouth Brethren,
who regard the existence of various denominations as an evil, and who
refuse to apply the term denomination to their own denomination, yet
practically stand on exactly the same ground as all other denominations.
The ground which they profess to stand upon is set forth by George Cutting
in a tract very extensively used among them. He says, Do you not often
hear a Christian talk about `joining' this or that body? Surely such an
one forgets (if he ever knew) that the only body which God, in His Word,
recognizes, is the `one body' of which Christ Himself is the Head, and
of which every true believer is a living member. If saved, therefore,
(to use a common expression,) you are already a `joined member.' . . .
What sad confusion, then, to talk of joining some other body! Why not
be content with the place God has given you in `the body of Christ,' and
seek, through grace, to fulfill the responsibilities of such a place?
But when those Brethren sought to fulfill those responsibilities,
they found themselves obliged to create another denomination. Henry W.
Soltau, one of their leading men, speaks thus of their course: Then
another thing that struck them was that the Dissenters made their membership
more narrow than the membership of Christ; they had a membership which
is not in the Bible, i.e. they would say, are you a Baptist, or Independent,
or Wesleyan, and these brethren said, Why should we recognise any membership
short of the Membership of the body of Christ? . . .
In consequence of all these things, a little company found there was
nothing to be done but to try and begin over again . . . These brethren
formed themselves into a little company on such a basis that they could
admit every believer all over the world, so that, if any one presented
himself, they simply tried to find out whether he was a saved person or
not, and, if he was, they said, `You have as much right as we have to
remember Christ, for it is the Lord's Table, not ours.'
But when they found it necessary to begin over again, they did just
exactly as the founders of every other denomination have done. When they
began over again, what were they beginning, the one body of Christ,
or a new denomination? When they formed a little company, what did
they form? Surely not the one body of Christ, for that was formed
long ago. They formed a new denomination, as surely as did the founders
of every other denomination. And though professing that their only test
of fellowship is that the applicant be saved, they do not and cannot act
upon their own principle. If a saved person claimed the right to fellowship
at the Lord's table twice a month with one division of the Brethren, and
the other two weeks with another division, neither of them would receive
him, though both acknowledging him as saved. Some independent or Open
Brethren may actually act upon the principle of receiving all who are
saved, but if they do, they make church discipline a practical impossibility,
and completely overturn the rule or oversight which God has established
in local churches.
And in spite of their profession that the only membership which they recognize
is membership in the body of Christ, the Brethren practically stand upon
the same ground as all other denominations. When William Kelly speaks
of a brother in fellowship, he does not mean in fellowship in the
body of Christ, but in fellowship with the Plymouth Brethren. Calling
it fellowship instead of membership does not alter the character of
it. The Brethren receive and exclude members the same as other denominations.
Moreover, many of the Brethren have made very explicit statements which
clearly testify to the fact that they are a denomination in the same sense
that other denominations are. One such statement says, However narrow
the path may seem, as God's principles are for the whole, therefore to
maintain them is the best thing for the whole Church. There must be a
circle of fellowship (which really means a number of gatherings holding
the same truth and acting on the same divine principles) in order that
we may carrry out the things that associate us together. . . . Each assembly
is responsible for those [persons] locally connected with it, and for
the condition of other assemblies with which it is in fellowship. There
is no difference between this and a Baptist association, or a Presbyterian,
Methodist, or Pentecostal denomination.
F. W. Grant, another of the leading men among the Brethren, sets forth
this circle of fellowship doctrine in detail in the seventh chapter
of A Divine Movement, and Our Path with God To-day. He says, To refuse
a circle of fellowship may be held as a theory: the facts will always
be discordant with the theory. ... But we are to recognize the whole body
of Christ! Surely, but not their unscriptural associations. In the interests
of the body of Christ I refuse denominations; but in the same interests
I am bound to accept the circle of unsectarian fellowship. The gracious
words which, providing for a day of failure and confusion, sanction the
two or three gathered to the Lord's blessed Name, sanction such gatherings
in every place, and therefore a circle of such gatherings. It would be
as sectarian to refuse identification with these as to take our place
with the various denominations. Nay, it would be more so.
But this unblushingly assumes that we only are gathered to the Lord's
name, while all those who are associated with the various denominations
are not so. Concerning this undenominational sectarianism C. H. Spurgeon
has said, This is to be a Baptist Chapel. I am not ashamed of the name,
nor afraid of being called sectarian. Some folks cannot belong to any
Church, for fear of being called sectarian, though it generally happens
that these people are the most sectarian of all
----forming a new sect,
which might well be named the Me-ites. Spurgeon rarely ever speaks of
the Brethren without contempt, but the Brethren would do well to hearken
to him anyway, for he speaks true.
And Thomas Neatby, who spent his life among the Brethren, at length cut
through all of the intricate terminology of this arrogant unsectarian
sectarianism, and said, There are, then, `Christians gathered unto the
Name of the Lord Jesus' distinguished from Christians not so gathered.
This is their denominational title. They are formed into `assemblies'
bearing this distinctive denomination. Whatever the claims may be, the
fact is, the Brethren are a sect or denomination in exactly the same sense
that every other denomination is. It would be a wiser thing for them,
and they would gain more of the respect of their neighbors, if they would
simply acknowledge this
----acknowledge that they are but a small part
of the body of Christ, who have associated themselves in ecclesiastical
fellowship on the basis of certain principles which they hold in common
with each other, and hold to be of such importance as to merit separation
from others, the same as every other denomination in existence. The real
fact is, if the Brethren are not a denomination, then there is no denomination
on earth, for in spite of a century and a half of ingenuity (which looks
like doubletalk to the rest of us), they cannot define the word denomination
in such a way as that it will include all others while it excludes themselves.
As F. W. Grant says, the theory may be one thing, but the facts will always
So the Brethren find it, though they will not always admit it. But the
very tracts written to maintain the theory unwittingly admit the facts.
Another Brethren tract says, Without doubt everyone who has repented
of his sins and believed in his heart in the Lord Jesus is a child of
God and a member of the body of Christ. Moreover there are certainly among
those Christians from which we have separated some believers who are more
godly and faithful in their personal walk than many of us. We willingly
acknowledge this. So it is necessary to understand that the motives of
our separation are purely of an ecclesiastical order: that is, we are
responsible to Christ as head of His Church to gather in His name alone
and maintain those principles of His Word given for the guidance of His
Church, and keep ourselves clear from all church organizations that ignore
or set aside those principles. If a believer continues to be mixed up
with such an order of things, separation from that unscriptural church
order necessarily entails ecclesiastical separation from such a believer;
however, not as a believer, but because of the place he occupies in an
unscriptural order of things from which we have in faithfulness to the
Lord to walk apart.
If believers gather to break bread simply as members of the body of
Christ and obey the instruction the Lord has given in the New Testament
epistles, they will own all who do likewise and there will be a bond of
existing fellowship between them. A bond of fellowship, that is, between
those who have separated ecclesiastically from other Christians, and associated
together to maintain certain principles
----a bond which exists among themselves,
but which does not exist between themselves and others whom they nevertheless
acknowledge as members of the body of Christ. A denomination, pure and
simple. A distinct part of the church of God, ecclesiastically separated
from other Christians, for the purpose of maintaining certain principles.
If this is not a denomination, what is? Even the title of the tract unwittingly
indicates this, for it is a statement of (obviously) the distinguishing
principles of the assemblies so associated (see footnote below). Some
of the Brethren, 'tis true, repudiate the circle of fellowship doctrine
in theory, but still they maintain it in practice. Still they have their
conferences with their own section of the Brethren. Still they send letters
of commendation between themselves. Still they have their own commended
preachers who travel and minister among them. Here and there, indeed,
we hear of a particular assembly which breaks away from this circle of
fellowship, and isolates itself in complete independency, but I have yet
to hear of one which has done this as a protest against the denominational
principle as such. Rather, the separation is made because of doctrinal
or practical differences. The separation, in other words, rests upon the
very same basis which is the foundation of all denominational divisions.
If those separating assemblies are destitute of vision and power, they
may remain as independent entities. Otherwise they will soon create their
own circle of fellowship, the same as the original Brethren did. And those
who separate from all and maintain their own independence can hardly fault
those who separate from each other.
The Brethren, then, in spite of all of their denials of it, and in spite
of all of their sincerest endeavors to avoid it, have (to use their own
words) formed a company, a circle of fellowship, which is unquestionably
narrower than the body of Christ. They have formed a denomination, and
they exist as a denomination. This is the fact, whatever the theory. Now
then, if those saints who abhor the very notion of denominationalism have
been forced by the necessities of the case to create a denomination, what
must the rest of us do?
Some denominational divisions, I am quite willing to grant, rest upon
nothing but the will of the flesh. This is particularly true of many of
the subdivisions among the Plymouth Brethren. The Brethren themselves
freely admit that they present to the world the spectacle of numerous
divisions, all holding to the same doctrines and practical standards,
and yet irreparably divided from each other. It is not the presence of
truth which has caused the divisions, but the absence of grace. But granting
that many church divisions are inexcusable, it still remains that some
are necessary. John Wesley abhorred schism, as all good Anglicans
do, but he could not prevent it. Though he would not leave the Church
of England, yet in spite of himself he formed a denomination which could
not stay in it. He had no thought nor desire to leave the church which
he loved, but rather to revive and reform it
----but CAN two walk together,
except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3). They CANNOT. They need not agree
in everything in order to walk together, but there are many things of
such fundamental importance, or of such deep practical consequence, that
disagreement on those things necessitates a separation.
But while some church divisions are an undoubted necessity, and will be
so until the whole church is perfected in the truth, the spirit which
often accompanies those divisions is unnecessary and inexcusable. Henry
W. Soltau says, I believe the great mistake from the beginning has been,
not in the act of separation, but in the ungracious way of exposing other
brethren. The evil, in other words, was not in standing for the truth,
or even in standing apart for the truth's sake, but in doing so without
love. Some divisions are necessary, for the wisdom that is from above
----before all other things ----PURE. (James 3:17) There
is no compromise in it, no laxity, no latitudinarianism, no temporizing.
There is nothing in it of the spirit of liberalism, or of neo-evangelicalism,
which will maintain unity at the expense of truth. It is first pure ----but,
THEN peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good
fruits. The wisdom which is from above will stand without bending for
all essential truth, whether doctrinal or practical, but it will stand
with a spirit which is exactly the opposite of that which usually prevails
in church divisions.
The divisions for which Paul rebukes the Corinthians were not formal or
outward separations, but divisions in heart. For whereas there is among
you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as
men? When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions
among you. (I Cor. 3:3; 11:18). There was no outward separation here,
but hearts divided, while outward unity was maintained. How much better
to have hearts united, whether outward unity can be maintained or not.
The fact is, there are beloved saints with whom I cannot join in church
fellowship, for numerous and various reasons, but I can love them. When
division threatened between Whitefield and the Wesleys in 1740, Charles
Wesley ended a lengthy letter to Whitefield as follows: My soul is set
upon peace, and drawn out after you, by love stronger than death. It faints
(in this bodily weakness) with the desire I have of your happiness. You
know not how dear you are to me; not dearer, I will be bold to say, to
any of your natural or spiritual relations. If such a spirit as this
were maintained in church divisions, we would hardly feel them to be much
of an evil.
The wise biographer of Richard Baxter speaks thus on the subject: The
divisions of the Christian church are undoubtedly much to be deplored.
They present a most unseemly appearance to the world, of that religion
which may be said to be `one and indivisible.' They imply much imperfection
on the part of its professors, occasion great stumbling to unbelievers,
and impair the energy and resources which might be advantageously employed
in assailing the common enemy. The causes of these divisions are to be
sought in the ignorance, the weakness, and the prejudices of Christians;
in indolent submission to authority on one part, and the love of influence
on another; in the power of early habits and associations; and, above
all, in the influence of a worldly spirit, which warps and governs the
mind in a thousand ways.
While the evil of this state of things is freely admitted, it is possible
to exaggerate both the extent of the divisions which exist, and the injuries
which result from them. There is more oneness of mind among real Christians
than a superficial observer might suppose. Baxter was quite correct in
maintaining that they differ more about words than things. In their views
of leading doctrines, in the experience of their influence, in the practical
effects of Christianity, and in their expectations of its future glory,
there is a substantial agreement among them.
In the wise and gracious administration of God, even these imperfections
are overruled, and rendered productive of important good. They afford
opportunity for the exercise of the Christian virtues of forbearance,
patience, and love; they put the tempers and profession of men to the
test; and they often excite a spirit of emulation, which, though not unmixed
with evil, is the means of extensive benefit to others. It is worthy of
observation that all attempts to produce uniformity, have either been
defeated; or have occasioned fresh divisions. Under the appearance of
outward unity, the greatest diversity of opinion generally prevails. And
genuine religion flourishes most amidst what is commonly denounced as
the contentions of rival sects.
The great man Baxter himself once said to a friend, I can as willingly
be a martyr for love, as for any article of the creed. Not that Baxter
always maintained that spirit which he coveted, for he was something less
than perfect, as other men are. His biographer thus contrasts him with
John Owen: Owen was calm, dignified, and firm, but respectful and courteous.
Baxter was sharp and cutting in his reproofs, sanguine in his expectations
of success; and, confident of his own guileless simplicity, disposed to
push matters further than the circumstances of the times admitted. Though
not superior in the substantial attainments of the Christian character,
the deportment of Owen was bland and conciliating, compared with that
of Baxter. Hence, Owen frequently made friends of enemies, while Baxter
often made enemies of friends. The one expected to unite all hearts, by
attacking all understandings; the other trusted more to the gradual operation
of Christian feeling, by which alone he believed that extended unity would
finally be effected.
The spirit of unity is in fact much more valuable than outward unity in
doctrine and practice. So long as the spirit of love is maintained, the
outward divisions of the church may actually be productive of more good
than evil. They free the hands of every man to work at his best, without
tying him to doctrines, practices, ceremonies, institutions, or circumstances
which must prove an embarrassment or a hindrance to him. Though the sharp
contention between them was deplorable, no doubt both Paul and Barnabas
could work with more freedom and do better work after their separation,
than they could have if they had remained together, each embarrassed by
what he regarded as the wrong position of the other with regard to John
Mark. Not that there was any actual ecclesiastical separation between
Paul and Barnabas, but there was something resembling it. But some will
ask, Why did they not talk out their differences till they agreed? The
answer is, Because they were men. They both believed themselves to be
in the right
----and probably both were so, in part ----and the mind of
man cannot be forced. True, they might have been able to agree in time,
but it may have required six months' worth of discussing to bring it about,
and where would be the work of the gospel in the mean time? Was it not
better to separate? And God overruled their contention for good, taking
the gospel to two climes instead of one. This was no doubt John Wesley's
view of the matter when he wrote to George Whitefield, on the verge of
their separation, The case is quite plain. There are bigots both for
predestination and against it. God is sending a message to those on either
side. But neither will receive it, unless from one who is of their own
opinion. Therefore, for a time you are suffered to be of one opinion,
and I of another. But when his time is come, God will do what man cannot,
namely make us both of one mind. That time never came during this life,
but the spirit of love was maintained between them, in spite of their
doctrinal and ecclesiastical separation. J. Hudson Taylor no doubt viewed
the matter the same way, when he simply assigned to different portions
of the field those missionaries from different ecclesiastical communions,
who had different views of doctrines and ordinances. He may perhaps be
faulted for his laxity in taking hold of persons of all sorts of doctrinal
and ecclesiastical persuasions, but he may be excused when we recall that
he had something more important before his mind than modes of church government,
namely the evangelization of China's millions.
The fact is, time is running out. The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
The day approaches when all who have served the Lord here will be caught
up to meet him in the air. But what shyness, what coolness, what embarrassment,
must there be between many of them, who will then stand side by side in
the redeemed company, but who now bicker and malign each other! Beloved,
let all the shyness, let all the embarrassment, be on the other side!
Whatever others may do, let me go to that meeting with a heart of love
for all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Though some may be
ashamed to hold up their heads in my presence, though some may be embarrassed
to look into my eyes, let me go to that meeting prepared to take every
brother by the hand and say to him, Brother, though I could not join
with you on the earth, though I was obliged to oppose with all of my might
some of the things for which you stood, and though you opposed me in a
manner which caused me great pain, yet my love for you never abated.
And in spite of all necessary divisions for the truth's sake, such a spirit
we may possess then, if such a spirit we maintain now.
Chats from my Library
By Glenn Conjurske
Charles G. Finney
The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney (written by himself, and usually referred
to as his Autobiography) has been one of the most influential books in
the recent history of the church, in stirring men to thirst for the power
of God, and to labor for revival. Jonathan Goforth, Charles M. Alexander,
A. T. Pierson, John R. Rice, and others all claim this book as one of
the great influences of their lives. It is one of the very few books I
have ever read twice. It is also one of the very few books of which I
own more than one copy. I have lent it to many. It was first published
in 1876, the year after Finney died, and has been often reprinted. This
edition was edited (and very much revised) by James H. Fairchild, who
yet had the hardihood to state concerning Finney in his preface, Few
men have better earned the right to utter their own thoughts, in their
own words. But after more than a century with this revised edition alone
before the public, the complete restored text of the original manuscript
has recently been edited by Garth M. Rosell and Richard A. G. Dupuis,
and published with copious notes. The editorial work and the printing
are excellent, but the binding is such as Zondervan Publishing House ought
to be heartily ashamed of. We have learned to expect such things from
the modern publishers of Christian books, but we never cease to be indignant.
Another very influential book by Finney is his Lectures on Revivals of
Religion, which consists of very abbreviated reports of his lectures,
first published in the New York Evangelist, and afterwards in book form
in 1835, revised and enlarged in 1868. His letters on revivals, published
in the Oberlin Evangelist in 1845-46, deserve more attention than they
have received. They contain his mature thoughts on the subject, and have
the advantage of having come directly from his own pen. In our day Bethany
Fellowship has published two editions of these, one entitled Revival Fire,
and the other, Reflections on Revival. Finney, of course, had nothing
to do with the titles of either of these. The first contains only half
the letters. The second contains all of them, and the text is generally
trustworthy, though it does contain some minor abridgements and alterations.
Both are in paperback, of course.
A volume of sermons, now scarce and little known, entitled Sermons on
Important Subjects, was published in 1836. These sermons, twelve in number,
are largely concerned with doctrinal matters, and contain some of the
results of Finney's grappling with Calvinism, of which he speaks in his
autobiography. One of the common fruits of Calvinism in those days was
that sinners rested in their supposed inability, and sat waiting for God
to give them a new heart. Finney took this bull by the horns in these
sermons, the first two of which are entitled Sinners Bound to Change
Their Own Hearts, and How To Change Your Heart, both from Ezekiel
A more eminently practical book of sermons appeared in 1837, entitled
Lectures to Professing Christians. These also were first printed in the
New York Evangelist, and are very abbreviated reports. Though I am certain
that Finney is sometimes wrong in theology in this volume (as when he
repudiates self-interest as a proper motive for serving God), yet his
powerful insistence on holiness and practical righteousness would do our
shallow age immense good.
Two further volumes of Finney's sermons are Sermons on Gospel Themes and
The Way of Salvation, containing between them 49 sermons, as reported
by Henry Cowles and published in the Oberlin Evangelist, which Cowles
None of these books contain anything more than very abbreviated reports
of Finney's sermons, which were often an hour and a half or two hours
in delivery. They were taken down by men who did not know shorthand, who
made brief notes while Finney preached, and afterwards wrote it out for
his approval. Finney's grandson, William C. Cochran, says of these reports,
All that is left of his sermons
----saving a few `skeletons' or outlines
of his discourses prepared by himself ----is what has filtered through
the minds of non-professional reporters like Rev. Joshua R. Leavitt, Rev.
Henry Cowles and Rev. Samuel D. Cochran. The style of each of these men
impressed itself on Mr. Finney's thought, in transmission, and it was
impossible for them to convey all of his thought, much less his imagery
and pathos. A professional stenographer was employed at one time to report
his sermons in Niblo's Theatre, New York City. He succeeded very well
for fifteen or twenty minutes, but when Mr. Finney began to warm up, and
his words began to glow with feeling, he forgot entirely what he was there
for and sat, with idle pencil, in open-mouthed astonishment. He could
not be persuaded to try again. It is vain, therefore, to dream of finding
more than a shadow of Finney's preaching in his published sermons.
Finney authored two books of theological lectures, a small one entitled
Skeleton of a Course of Theological Lectures, and a much larger one entitled
Lectures on Systematic Theology. The latter is largely devoted to his
doctrine of perfection, 18 of the 82 lectures being on Sanctification.
He was for many years professor of systematic theology at Oberlin College,
but I believe he might have been better employed. As a preacher he was
probably unexcelled in his day. As a theologian he had many weaknesses.
However firmly I believe his theology to be sounder than the Calvinism
which prevailed around him, yet I must insist that both his method and
his system might more properly be called philosophy than theology. James
H. Fairchild (Finney's successor as President of Oberlin College) calls
it theological philosophy. Finney appeals too little to Scripture,
and too much to reason, or self-evident truth, and in this category he
is much too confident. In this he was only following the method impressed
upon all New England by Jonathan Edwards a century before. He rejected
some of the peculiarities of Calvinism (and speaks very cogently against
them), but in this he was only following the current thought of new school
theology. An excellent study of this theological philosophy, from
Edwards to Finney and beyond, may be found in A Genetic History of New
England Theology, by Frank Hugh Foster, a book of 568 pages, with a good
index, published in 1907, and reprinted in 1963.
Finney's autobiography is really only an account of his revival work.
Real biographies of him are few and scarce. Charles Grandison Finney,
by G. Frederick Wright (1891), contains excellent information, but is
brief, the biographical portion being only 176 pages. A large segment
of the book is devoted to a discussion of his theology. Life of Charles
G. Finney, by A. M. Hills (1902), is also brief, but contains a small
amount of good original information. Hills was a student under Finney
at Oberlin, and devoted to the doctrine of perfection. Charles Grandison
Finney, by William C. Cochran is a Memorial Address Delivered at the
Dedication of the Finney Memorial Chapel, Oberlin, June 21, 1908, by
Finney's grandson. It was Printed for Private Circulation in 1908,
and is very scarce. It is also brief, but does contain a small amount
of excellent information not to be found elsewhere. A recent biography
(1987) is Charles Grandison Finney, by Keith J. Hardman, containing 521
pages, including bibliography and index. The reader need not expect to
find any spirituality in this biography, though its historical information
is very good. The publishers (Baker Book House) advertise this as likely
to become the standard biography. But no: whatever else its merits
may be, they have disqualified it from such a place by publishing it with
a very poor paperback binding.
Finney's Revival Work and Moral Desolation
by Glenn Conjurske
One of the most effectual hindrances to love and unity in the church
of God is doctrinal bigotry. Where this exists little weight is attached
to the true spirit, power, and substance of Christianity, while doctrine
is made the test of spirituality and worth. The most sterling spiritual
worth is set aside and despised, because the man cannot pass the test
----and as often as not the doctrine which is made the test
is wholly or partially false. But such bigotry may attach to either true
doctrine or false. It may be (and has been) attached to dispensationalism,
to hyperdispensationalism, to Brethren principles, to Baptist principles,
to Arminianism, and to Calvinism. Such bigotry has quite generally attached
to Calvinism, and does so today, being handed down from generation to
generation as an apparently inseparable part of what are called the
doctrines of grace. This bigotry has led many good men to despise men
who were much better than themselves, to question their salvation, to
regard them as evil workers, etc.
The two men who have borne the brunt of the most of that bigotry are John
Wesley and Charles G. Finney. Most atrocious things, writes C. H.
Spurgeon, have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition
of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians
----spoken, of course,
by bigoted Calvinists, and spoken for the sole reason that Wesley was
not a Calvinist. But with such bigotry Spurgeon would have nothing to
do, and therefore goes on to say, I can only say concerning him that,
while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man
himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan. In other words, Spurgeon
did not make doctrine the test of the man ----though well aware that certain
fundamental doctrines ought to be the test of the man. The doctrines he
detested: the man he revered.
Wesley, of course, detested Spurgeon's doctrines also, but said, I make
no opinion the term of union with any man: I think, and let think. What
I want is holiness of heart and life. They who have this are my brother,
sister, and mother. Elsewhere he said, Orthodoxy, I say, or right
opinion, is but a slender part of religion at best, and sometimes no part
at all. I mean, if a man be a child of God, holy in heart and life, his
right opinions are but the smallest part of his religion: if a man be
a child of the devil, his right opinions are no part of religion, they
cannot be; for he that does the works of the devil has no religion at
It might be too much to say that Wesley or Spurgeon always acted consistently
with these high principles, for they were men also. But it seems they
were high above the generality of Christians, who have never breathed
this pure air at all. With most Christians doctrine continues to be the
grand test of spirituality, and all who cannot pronounce their doctrinal
shibboleth are accounted of little worth, or even as enemies of the
truth. An extreme example of this is related by William Blair Neatby,
who says, A friend, extremely well acquainted with Irish affairs, related
that a conference was held between the Walkerites and the Kellyites to
discuss terms on which a union between the two communions might be effected.
The negotiations were broken off by the absolute refusal of Kelly and
his friends to entertain a term of fellowship on which the other side
peremptorily insisted. The article of belief to which the Kellyites declined
to commit themselves was `that John Wesley is in hell.' There are doubtless
few Calvinists who would subscribe to such a degree of bigotry, but yet
a great many of them are guilty of the same kind of bigotry, howbeit in
a lesser degree, and will detract from men like Wesley and Finney, while
they exalt men of much lesser gifts and grace, merely because they are
One example of that bigotry is in the moral desolation which certain
Calvinists have attributed to the work of Charles G. Finney. Shortly after
Finney began his revival work, a storm of opposition arose against him,
led primarily by Asahel Nettleton, an older man, who had been engaged
in revival work himself for some years before Finney entered the field.
Opposition to Finney and his work became general among Calvinists, and
has not died out to this day. In 1844 a Memoir of Asahel Nettleton was
published, written by Bennet Tyler, a champion of old school Calvinism.
This book was republished across the Atlantic in 1854, revised (or remodelled)
by Andrew Bonar, a Scotch Calvinist. This remodelled edition was reprinted
by The Banner of Truth Trust in 1974. My reason for referring to it here
is that Bonar added to the original work an appendix on Mr. Finney's
Career, in which we are told:
Not long since, the following statement was made by a minister in America,
whose information and character are alike such as entitle him to be depended
----`A class of evangelists arose, of whom the Rev. C. G. Finney
was a distinguished leader, who adopted Pelagian, or Semi-Pelagian views
of doctrine, and introduced a system of measures adapted to produce excitement.
The consequence was, that great excitement was produced, and multitudes
of converts were proclaimed. But a large proportion of these proved to
be like seed sown on stony places. Moral desolation succeeded these excitements.
Some of these evangelists have lost their character, and most of them
have lost, in a great measure, their influence. Very few of them would
now be invited to preach in those places where their labours were said
to be so remarkably successful. This is true of Mr. Finney himself. If
our English brethren who are giving Mr. Finney their countenance and support,
are not making work for repentance, many of the most sound and judicious
ministers of this country will be greatly mistaken.'
This is nothing other than doctrinal bigotry, and it is a sad thing to
see so good a man as Andrew Bonar giving his hand to its support. The
statement is unfair however we look at it. First of all, we know nothing
about the author of this statement. He may have been one of Finney's arch
enemies. Why is not his name given? This would have been easier than to
say, a minister in America, whose information and character are alike
such as entitle him to be depended upon. If that is true, why are we
not given his name? To publish such a statement without the author's name
makes it suspect from the outset. Further, the statement contains charges
against others who are not named either
----evangelists who have lost their
character and their influence. It may have been the part of prudence not
to name them, but is this fair in a statement on Mr. Finney's Career?
Here we have serious moral charges against nameless men, by a nameless
man, and Charles G. Finney, the only one named, guilty by association.
This only shows how low bigotry will stoop, even in a good man, to blacken
the object of its aversion.
But we are further assured that moral desolation followed Finney's
revivals. Well, now, supposing this to be the truth, what conclusion are
we to draw from it? Obviously, that this is the fault of Finney, or of
some evil in him or his doctrine. But is this conclusion legitimate? The
fact is, moral desolation has also followed some other revivals, in
which the actors were the soundest of the sound among Calvinists. Every
item attributed to Finney's revivals in the above statement was undoubtedly
true of the revival under Jonathan Edwards, Edwards himself being the
witness. As for many of the proclaimed converts being only stony-ground
hearers, Edwards says (writing in 1751 of the revivals under his own ministry
a dozen years before), However, doubtless at that time, there was a
very glorious work of God wrought in Northampton, and there were numerous
instances of saving conversion; though undoubtedly many were deceived,
and deceived others; and the number of true converts was not so great
as was then imagined. Writing at the same date of the revivals which
had taken place throughout New England, under the ministry of George Whitefield,
Gilbert Tennent, and other sound Calvinists, Edwards says, There are,
undoubtedly, very many instances in New-England, in the whole, of the
perseverance of such, as were thought to have received the saving benefits
of the late revival of religion; and of their continuing to walk in newness
of life, and as becomes saints; instances, which are incontestible, and
which, men must be most blind not to see; but I believe the proportion
here is not so great as in Scotland. I cannot say, that the greater part
of supposed converts, give reason, by their conversation, to suppose that
they are true converts. The proportion may, perhaps, be more truly represented,
by the proportion of the blossoms on a tree, which abide and come to mature
fruit, to the whole number of blossoms in the spring.
It was Edwards observation, then, after the passing of some years, that
the greater part of the converts of these New-England revivals were not
converted. Yet there is no doubt that these revivals were carried on exclusively
by Calvinists. George Whitefield wrote to John Wesley from Pennsylvania
in 1740, I dread your coming to America; because the work of GOD is
carried on here (and that in a most glorious manner) by doctrines quite
opposite to those you hold. . . . God direct me what to do! Sometimes
I think it best to stay here, where we all think and speak the same thing:
The work goes on without divisions, and with more success, because all
employed in it are of one mind. That is, they were all Calvinists.
But moral desolation followed Finney's revival work. What that moral
desolation consisted of we are given no hint, but we may conjecture that,
from such a writer, this might refer to nothing more serious than Arminian
doctrine. But suppose it refers to actual moral desolation. Again I affirm,
the same followed the revivals under Jonathan Edwards, Edwards himself
being the witness. His biographer tells us that during the revivals under
himself and his predecessor almost all the existing members of the church
had made a profession of religion. Yet only a few years after the last
and most powerful of those revivals, in 1744, we are told, Mr. Edwards
was informed, that some young persons in the town, who were members of
the church, had licentious books in their possession, which they employed
to promote lascivious and obscene conversation, among the young people
at home. When Edwards sought to deal with the matter, a great number
of the adult members of the church opposed him. This strengthened the
hands of the accused: some refused to appear; others, who did appear,
behaved with a great degree of insolence, and contempt of the authority
of the church: and little or nothing could be done further in the affair.
From this time, That great and singular degree of good order, sound
morals, and visible religion, which had prevailed at Northampton, soon
began gradually to decay, and the young people obviously became from that
time more wanton and dissolute. Recall, now, the actors in this scene
of moral desolation were all members of Edwards' church, most of whom
were converts of the revivals of a few years before.
In 1749 Edwards wrote, As to the present state of religion in these
parts of the world, it is in the general very dark and melancholy. And
in 1751, when he was disgracefully dismissed from the church by his own
congregation, most of whom owed their all to his ministry, he went to
great lengths to excuse the people for their high-handed and unfair dealings
with him, and one of the excuses he makes for them is, It is to be considered,
that these things have happened when God is greatly withdrawn, and religion
was very low, not only at Northampton, but all over New-England.
But enough of such melancholy things. Yet my question is, why have Calvinists
never used these facts to discredit Jonathan Edwards? There is only one
answer, and that is that Edwards was a Calvinist. The moral desolation
which is alleged to have followed Finney's work, and the lack of genuineness
of many of the converts
----these, even if true, have nothing substantial
to do with the case against Charles G. Finney, or Edwards would certainly
be discredited likewise. Finney is set aside on the basis of his doctrine,
and everything which can be gathered up or invented against him is used
to discredit him, while the same kind of things (and undoubtedly true)
in Edwards' work are taken no notice of.
But beyond this, knowing how unable bigotry is to see the good which is
there, and how prone it is to exaggerate the evil, or even to invent it,
we must further inquire, Are the things true which are related to Finney's
discredit? And here, to offset general charges from an anonymous author,
we may quote the testimony of a known man, published under his own name,
in what was probably the most reputable theological journal in the country
(Bibliotheca Sacra). The writer of these testimonies was an undoubted
Calvinist, and wrote on the scene of Finney's former labours, and just
five years after Andrew Bonar's publication of the statement given above.
The author (A. P. Marvin) relates first the evils which had resulted from
stressing the Calvinistic doctrines of divine sovereignty and human inability,
saying, The doctrine of divine sovereignty had been abused and perverted.
A feeling, if not a conviction, had grown up in many minds, that nothing
could be done, to promote the cause of Christ and secure the conversion
of sinners. The accounts of the former revivals were often written in
such a strain as to convey the idea that a revival was a mysterious movement,
beginning without any regard to human instrumentality, remaining a certain
time regardless of human exertion, and passing away, when its force was
spent, without any regard to human obedience in the use of means. People
began to feel that, though bound to live godly lives, they had very little
if anything to do for the purpose of obtaining a gracious visitation of
the Spirit. The impenitent learned to feel that they should be converted
at the appointed time, and that they could only wait for God to renew
their hearts, if he should ever see fit to accomplish so great a work.
He then relates how this state of things was remedied, by the preaching
of human responsibility, from such scriptures as Repent, and turn yourselves
from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast
away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed:
and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house
of Israel. This was the staple of Finney's early preaching, and he was
the leader in this revival movement. The first two sermons in the first
book he published are entitled, Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts,
and How to Change Your Heart. Such doctrine I believe to have been
the real cause of offense to the old school Calvinists, and everything
else which they have against Finney stems from this. Our author (writing,
of course, from the viewpoint of a Calvinist) proceeds:
Evils attended and followed these revivals. One was a feeling of self-sufficiency
on the part of impenitent men. The doctrine of human ability was unduly
exalted by some, and they flattered themselves with the false notion that
they were safe because they could repent and believe, at any time, without
the in-working of the Holy Spirit. There is reason to fear that many have
gone to remediless ruin under the mistaken fancy that they should repent
before death, simply because of their natural ability to obey the commands
of God. Notwithstanding these evils, the general results of this revival
era were favorable. Its influence is felt to this day, in hundreds of
churches which were founded or strengthened during its prevalence; and
also in all the channels of benevolent activity. Indeed those revivals
have been succeeded by these of our own immediate time [1857-1859], which
in our opinion are the most free from fanaticism, from one-sidedness,
and from liability to reaction, of any in the history of our country;
and it may be, of any, in the history of Christianity. The great revival
of 1831 made practical Christians, as we might expect from its peculiar
doctrinal type; and ever since the question has been asked, with increasing
earnestness: `Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'
Now does this look like moral desolation? Would it not be better for
Finney's detractors to acknowledge the true spirit and power of Christianity
which he possessed in such an eminent degree, in spite of what they regard
as his doctrinal aberrations, than to seek to discredit him therefor?
Indeed, it behooves us all to judge righteous judgement, and not despise
or discredit good men because of differences in doctrine.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- -----
Care For God's Fruit-Trees
by H. A. Ironside
When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it
to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax
against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them
down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege:
only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou
shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against
the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued (Deut. 20:l9,20).
Many are the salutary lessons which the Holy Spirit has put before us
by means of the instruction given to Israel. We are familiar with the
fact that the things which happened unto them were for types, and written
for our learning. And such is the passage quoted above. Just as, when
God commanded Israel, saying, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth
out the corn, He had His own servants in mind (as so clearly shown us
by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 9:9-14), so here, may we not see pictured
by the trees good for food, these same servants in another aspect,
and made the objects of the Lord's particular care?
The people of Israel were admonished against all recklessness and waste
in felling standing timber when they besieged the cities of the land.
They were careful to ascertain the character of each particular tree before
venturing to lift an ax against it. All fruit-trees were to be spared,
because they were part of God's gracious provision for ministering food
to His people.
And may we not say that God would have us make the same distinction today?
There are trees, to the very roots of which the ax must be laid; trees
that are either mere cumberers of the ground, or producing only that which
is noxious and poisonous. Such are the present-day advocates of human
righteousness as a basis of acceptance with God, or the propagators of
wicked teachings that deny the very foundations of the faith. Soldiers
of the Lord of Hosts may be assured of His approval when they use the
ax against these
----exposing their fallacies. Every plant, said the
Lord Jesus, that My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted
up. To fearlessly oppose such evil teachers and denounce their doctrines
and practices, is in accord with the spirit of the Lord Jesus and of His
apostles. None reproved hypocritical pretensions more scathingly than
Christ Himself. No modern controversialist, with any claim to piety, would
be likely to use stronger words than those of John the Baptist when he
sternly arraigned the generation of vipers of his day. Tremendously
telling are the denunciations of the Apostle Paul, when necessity compelled
him to meet the errors of false teachers troubling the early Church. John,
Peter and Jude hesitated not to decry the antichrists, the purveyors of
damnable heresies, and the ungodly men turning the grace of our God
into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus
Christ, who were creeping in among the saints, and seeking to overthrow
their most holy faith.
But, be it noted, those so solemnly accused and vigorously combated, were
not erring saints, or brethren with mistaken views, but they were relentless
enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god
is their belly, who mind earthly things. And wherever such are found
today, and manifestly proven to be such, they should be dealt with in
the same way.
But there is grave danger lest the ax be lifted up against another class
----the fruit-bearing trees ----whom the Lord has forbidden our
judging or condemning. Every fruit-tree is the object of His tender solicitude.
Such are truly born of the Spirit, and genuine lovers of our Lord Jesus
Christ. They may at times, in their zeal for God or their earnest passion
for the souls of lost men, over-step bounds and use methods of which their
more conservative or better-instructed brethren disapprove, but they are
the Lord's servants, who has said, Who art thou that judgest another
man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.
The spirit of criticism may lead to very unhappy results, and ofttimes
one is in danger of finding himself arrayed against men and movements
which God is owning and blessing. The utmost care is required to distinguish
things that differ
----that what is of God and what is of Satan may not
come into the same sweeping condemnation. And our Lord Himself has given
us the rule whereby we may make this distinction. He has said, By their
fruits ye shall know them. A corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit, whereas
a good tree brings forth good fruit. In either case the fruit may not
always be the same in quantity or quality, but it will be either deleterious
or good for food. Because healthful fruit is sometimes small, or not
up to the standard, one does not necessarily chop down the tree, but rather,
wisely uses the pruning-knife and purges it that it may bring forth more
and better fruit.
And this pruning process is one that all God's fruit-trees have at times
to undergo; and often He uses one servant to correct and help another;
but this is accomplished far better by a kindly personal admonition, or
a brotherly effort to instruct, than by unkind criticism and a hard judging
spirit. A beautiful example of this gracious care for one of God's fruit-trees
is given us in the book of Acts, in the case of Apollos, whose earnestness
and love for the Scriptures appealed to the hearts of Priscilla and Aquila,
though he was not at all up to the standard of New Testament truth. He
had not got beyond the baptism of John. But this godly couple, instead
of exposing his ignorance to others, or roundly denouncing him as a legalist
without true gospel light, take him into their home, and there in true
Christian love expound unto him the way of God more perfectly. What precious
and abiding fruit was the result!
It is to be regretted that the same gracious spirit does not always characterize
us when we meet with, or hear of, those who are manifesting similar devotedness,
while ignorant of much that we may value. How senseless the folly that
leads us ofttimes to array ourselves against such servants of Christ,
in place of manifesting a godly concern for them. We thoughtlessly lift
our axes against God's fruit-trees, and would destroy where we might save.
Many a one who is ignorant of much precious truth, is nevertheless bearing
fruit in the salvation of souls and the refreshment of the spirits of
believers; while, on the other hand, one may have a very clear intellectual
grasp of divine principles and understand much that is called high truth,
who produces very little of this same blessed fruit.
Oh, beloved brethren, let us keep our axes sharp for the deadly upas-trees
of sin and fundamental error that abound on every side; but shall we not
seek grace from God that we may have spiritual discernment to refrain
from damaging in any way trees that are good for food?
Satan and his emissaries can be depended upon to bestow enough abuse on
real Christians and true servants of the Lord Jesus, without their fellow-servants
joining in the same unworthy business. Let us not forget the words already
quoted, Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own
master he standeth or falleth. And the Holy Spirit goes on to say, Yea,
and he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand.
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.