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Vol. 6, No. 7
July, 1997

Abraham and Lot

by Glenn Conjurske

Abraham was called of God. That call became the foundation of his entire earthly course, and of all his conduct. The effect of that call was to take him out of Ur of the Chaldees, to make him a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth, and to fix his heart and his hopes on the heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God. By this call his faith was fixed. It was not from necessity that he walked as a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth, but from principle. His life was a declaration of his faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise, for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:8-10). His tent was a declaration of his faith.

Understand, Abraham was wealthy. There was no necessity for him to live in a tent. He might have built a mansion. It was not necessity, but principle, which determined his course. “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents.” He would not step down, even in appearance, from his high and holy calling.

And understand further, we have the same heavenly calling which Abraham had. If there is any difference at all, it lies in the fact that the heavenly call is clearly and explicitly expressed to us, whereas Abraham must apprehend it as it were in a glass darkly, by a strong faith and a keen spiritual sight. God had promised Abraham the land, not heaven. But God had also made it clear to Abraham that he was not to have the land yet, for “the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” (Gen. 15:16). This the Lord made known to Abraham in the midst of “an horror of great darkness,” (verse 12)----a fit emblem of the depression which likely settled upon his spirit when he received this word of the Lord. When Abraham forsook his country and his kindred, his hopes were not set upon heaven, but upon “a land that I will show thee.” Now in this horror of darkness he learns that though his tent is pitched in that land, neither he nor his seed will receive any inheritance in it until the iniquity of the Amorites is full----a matter not of years, but of centuries.

It may be difficult for us to guess with what force such a blow fell upon Abraham's spirit, for no doubt his heart was set on the land. Yet he did not think of returning to his native place. His faith saw through the gloom, rose as it were above the clouds, and fixed itself upon the city whose builder and maker is God. Not that the land was therefore nothing to him. He died in faith, not having received the promise, but the promise yet stands, and will yet be fulfilled, for the resurrection is before us.

Meanwhile the faith of Abraham set him upon a life of self-denial. It was no convenience to live in a tent. Abraham was a man of like passions with the rest of the human race. His soul no doubt longed for the rest of a home----for a place of his own----yet his faith kept him from taking that which was within his easy reach. He could have bought whole cities in the land of promise, but God “gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on” (Acts 7:5), and he therefore took none.

Lot, meanwhile, had never received any such call of God, nor any such promise of God. Yet he had faith, and was a righteous man, and that faith prompted him to associate himself with Abraham----to cast in his lot with him to whom the call of God had come. Lot lived in a tent also. Ah! but he was not content there. It may be that he knew too little of direct dealing with God. He followed Abraham. He received the call of God and the promises of God through Abraham. No wrong in that: it was a plain necessity. But it was also a plain necessity that he should walk with God himself. All that he received from God through Abraham must be confirmed in his own soul by his own direct dealing with God. Here, perhaps, he failed. Here he was weak. He lacked, therefore, that strength of faith which dwelt in Abraham, and lacking that strength of faith, he lacked also that steadfastness of purpose.

The “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” loomed bright and glorious before the faith of Abraham, but Lot saw it but dimly. His faith, perhaps as bright and strong as Abraham's when they set out from Ur of the Chaldees, grew dim and cold over the long course of “faith and patience.” His decline was gradual, but steady. It first appears in the strife between the herdmen of Abraham and the herdmen of Lot. Abraham's faith appears in the proposal which he makes to Lot. Though the land belonged to him by promise, he knew it was not his yet. He knew also, by faith, that the God who had called him would look out for his interests. That faith made him disinterested and magnanimous, as faith always does, and he says to Lot, “If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Gen. 13:9).

It was the remark of John Newton that “God is continually bringing about occasions to demonstrate characters.” So God did on the occasion before us. The strife of the herdmen, which demonstrated the brightness of Abraham's faith, brought out also the dimness of Lot's. The promise of God did not fill the vision of Lot, as it did of Abraham. Abraham's self-denial was therefore irksome to Lot. He followed Abraham----the most proper thing, indeed, which he could do----but he had not the faith of Abraham. While Abraham, therefore, denied himself, Lot must look out for himself. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan.”

The faith of Lot was doubtless dim already, but this was his first downward step. Alas, it was not his last. Spiritual decline is always a gradual thing. The decline began in Lot's heart, perhaps unperceived by himself, perhaps unperceived by others. Yet this inward decline has its symptoms, and surely may be perceived. Lot no doubt left Ur of the Chaldees full of faith and enthusiasm. The same faith which moved Abraham moved Lot. He did not regard Abraham as a visionary, a fanatic, or a fool, but believed with Abraham, and cast in his lot with him. He likely loved then to speak of the promise of God, the coming inheritance, the happiness of obedience, the joy of the pilgrim pathway, the “light affliction” of the pilgrim's self-denial. But over the long course all of this was changed. The “light affliction”----though unchanged----was heavier now. The “dwelling in tents” was irksome now. He had not counted upon so long a time of “faith and patience.” The tongue which before loved to speak of the happiness of obedience and the promise of God was now occupied with flocks and herds and pasture-grounds. I say, then, if Lot's decline was not perceived, it at any rate might have been.

Yet the decline was no doubt most gradual, and if anyone had suggested at the beginning of Lot's decline, the depths at which it would end, he would no doubt have responded with the warmest indignation. Yet when a good man begins a downward course, there is no telling where he might end. The inward decline, which preceded the outward, may have been very gradual, but when once the downward steps began, one followed another rapidly enough. So soon as he was separated from Abraham, “Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” (Gen. 13:12). Here was an anomaly----a pilgrim and a stranger, dwelling still in the pilgrim's tent, but pitching that tent toward Sodom. “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” (Verse 13). Lot surely knew this, and indeed vexed his righteous soul with it from day to day. Yet somehow Sodom had some strange fascination even for the righteous man----even for the pilgrim in the tent----and he pitched his pilgrim tent toward Sodom. Now the plain fact is, the world has a fascination for all of us. It is designed by its cunning prince to appeal to human nature in a thousand ways. Its snares are powerful----perhaps irresistible to those whose vision is not filled with the “better thing” of which faith lays hold.

Not that Lot was taken in all of those snares. Certainly not, for he was a righteous man. But he was a weak man----and who is not weak when his faith is dim and cold? The man whose faith flags will not jump headlong into the world, but he will begin to consider whether he may not get a little nearer to it, without sin. He will consider----and correctly, no doubt----that everything in Sodom is not sinful, that there is much in the world which we may use without sin. Technically true, without a doubt, and yet the man whose thoughts run too freely in that direction is certainly on a dangerous decline. While Abraham arose and walked through the land in the length of it and the breadth of it, removed his tent and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, and built there an altar unto the Lord, Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom.” Such a move could bode no good.

And no good followed, for he who “pitched his tent toward Sodom” soon abandoned his tent altogether, and is found in a house, and in Sodom.

Yet Lot, we know, remained a “righteous man” in Sodom. His family, however, did not fare so well. His wife he lost. Doubtless Lot's wife must follow Lot. She must dwell in Sodom if Lot did, but her heart need not have dwelt there. Her heart might have remained with Abraham, with the altar of the Lord, in the pilgrim tent, in the plain of Mamre. But it was not so. Her heart was so thoroughly settled in Sodom that she could scarcely bear to leave it, and while Abraham and Isaac looked forward to the city which hath foundations, she must look back to that city over which hung the judgement of God, and perish with that wicked city. Indeed, we cannot avoid a suspicion that it was the pining of Lot's wife which moved him from the pilgrim tent to the house in the city in the first place, for nothing is more common than this in the church of God.

And Lot lost his children also. To his sons-in-law he “seemed as one that mocked,” when he endeavored to warn them of the impending judgement. His daughters had evidently learned the morals of Sodom, as their shame and his was to manifest by and by.

And to top all, he lost the very thing which had moved him toward Sodom in the first place. He lost his temporal ease and possessions. When he exchanged the pilgrim tent for the house in the city, he little dreamed that he would one day trade the house in the city for the cave on the mountain, but so it proved. Like Naomi, who left the “House of Bread” (Bethlehem) for the land of Moab, he went out full, but he came back empty. For in spite of the charms of Sodom and the snares of the world, there is a God in heaven who will have his own to walk by faith, and to lay hold of that for which the Lord has laid hold of them. If God has said to them, “Get thee out,” he will have them to walk as pilgrims and strangers on the earth. If he plants them in the land, he will not have them to leave it, though pressed by famine. The Lord therefore dealt very bitterly with Naomi, and very bitterly with Lot. None of the trials of the famine were equal to the bereavements of the land of Moab. None of the trials of the pilgrim tent were equal to those of the wrenching of ties in Sodom, the pillar of salt by the way, and the shame of the cave on the mountain.

And here the Scripture draws the curtain over Lot, the last mention of him being this, that “thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.” Not that this was the deed of Lot. It was the daughters' doing, nor could they have drawn the righteous Lot into it without the aid of wine----yet what righteous man would wish to have such daughters as these?

Now all of this is of the utmost importance in the present day, for the church of God in this generation is literally filled with Lots----with righteous men who have forgotten their heavenly calling, exchanged the trials of the pilgrim tent for the ease of the house in the city, whose sons think of nothing higher than the pleasures and goods of the world, and whose daughters have learned the morals of Sodom.

There is, of course, a simple cure for all of this, but it may lie further back than folks suppose. To maintain personal righteousness may not be sufficient. Lot did that much, even in Sodom, but his being in Sodom at all told but too effectually against him. How can he direct his children to the skies, when his own roots are sunk so deep in the earth? His personal righteousness, even if untarnished, did not go far enough. He wanted spiritual purpose. He wanted a heavenly mind. He wanted the pilgrim tent. Not that we ought literally to live in tents. In this day that would be generally impracticable, and often illegal, and we may have reasons to have houses which Abraham never had. Yet the nature of our houses----and especially the nature of our relationship to them----ought surely to manifest our pilgrim character. Even under the old economy----earthly as it was----a man's house served as a measure of his devotedness. Solomon was seven years in building the house of the Lord, but thirteen years building his own house. This told too surely of the declension within, which ere the close of his course saw him building a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab. And a prophet of God says elsewhere, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house [of God] lie waste?”

It is no sin to dwell in a house. The partakers of the heavenly calling in New Testament times dwelled in houses. Though the tent is the emblem of the pilgrim life, it is not necessarily the indispensable condition of it. The tent may be optional, but that we be “pilgrims and strangers on the earth” is not. Is the eye fixed upon the verdant plain of Jordan, or the heavenly city? Here is the difference between Abraham and Lot, and here is the key to the upward course of the one, and the downward course of the other. They were both righteous men, and God would no more allow Lot to perish with Sodom than he would Abraham, but Lot must come out of the enchanting city as one saved by fire. So will many righteous men leave this world.


The Christian Work Ethic??

by Glenn Conjurske

An article has recently come to hand entitled “Rediscovering the Christian Work Ethic.” This appears in a column entitled “Toward a Biblical Worldview,” in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March / April, 1997), published by Charity Christian Fellowship, Leola, Pennsylvania. The article is written by Peter Hammond, and “selected by Myron Stoltzfus.” I have been asked for my opinion of this article.

The first thing which arrests our attention here is the terminology employed in the title. It is the common language of Neo-evangelicalism. “Biblical worldview” and “Christian work ethic” are not the language of the church of God, but the jargon of Neo-evangelicalism, which is a modern departure from the ways of God. Anyone who understands what is going on in the church in our day, and who saw only the language employed in these titles, would immediately conclude that this Charity Christian Fellowship must be a Neo-evangelical movement. But this is not so. From all that I know of the movement, it is very conservative. It has high standards----higher indeed than those of most Fundamentalists. How then does it come to wear these badges of Neo-evangelicalism?

I believe there is only one possible answer to this question: these folks have been reading the wrong kind of literature. They have been reading the books of Neo-evangelicalism. No one could adopt such language as “Biblical Worldview” unless he had learned it from the Neo-evangelicals. The word “worldview” is not even in the dictionary----unless perhaps in a dictionary printed yesterday. This is the jargon of modern Neo-evangelicalism, and language which just suits the Neo-evangelical mind, which is always more occupied with the world than with anything else. Those who use this language have obviously acquired it from that source. “Thy speech bewrayeth thee.”

It is one of the great evils of our times that Neo-evangelicalism provides most of the literature which is read by conservative Christians. I have remarked in these pages before that I have no hope for the future of Fundamentalism, so long as it continues to feed upon Neo-evangelical literature. And here is a movement certainly more conservative than most of Fundamentalism, and yet obviously exposed to the same danger, obviously influenced from the same source, and obviously unaware of its danger. These things I write with tears, and they are indeed enough to make the angels weep.

It has been rumored of myself that I will read nothing unless it is at least a hundred years old. This is not true. I do read a little of modern literature, though I have very little taste for it, as its content is generally shallow, and its atmosphere unspiritual. Neither do I believe there is any danger in reading a little Neo-evangelical literature, so long as it is distasteful to us, so long as we read it as a chore, or as a physician would examine a patient with a contagious disease. But those who feed upon this modern literature will certainly be the worse for it, and it would certainly be much safer for them if they would read nothing less than a hundred years old.

But on. If the title of the article betrays its Neo-evangelical source, so does its content. Of who Mr. Hammond is, I know nothing. Of whence Mr. Stoltzfus selected this article, he tells us nothing, and I know nothing. It is the principles of the article which concern me, and I know very well the origin of those. While it contains some good, the evil principles which it inculcates outweigh any good which it may contain in details. The essence of that evil is set forth in the following extract:

“Many people labor under the illusion that God is mostly concerned with religious pursuits. This misunderstanding is based [on] at least four false assumptions:

“1.God is far more interested in people's souls than their bodies.

“2.The things of our life after death are far more important than the things pertaining to our life in time.

“3.Life is divided into the secular and the sacred.

“4.Becoming a minister, evangelist, or missionary is the only way to serve God in a vocation.

“The Bible shows that God is interested in the whole person, not in a disembodied soul. What goes on in both time and eternity are equally important to our Sovereign God. Being co-laborers with God in making His physical, temporal world run smoothly is important, just as co-laboring with Him in evangelism is.”

That there are some grains of truth in some of these propositions I would not care to deny, but their general tendency is downward, and directly against spirituality----directly against the Bible----directly against the heavenly calling of the church. Their only possible effect must be to settle the saints down in the earth----or in the world----forgetful that they are called of God to be “pilgrims and strangers on the earth,” and that the judgement of God is soon to destroy all that man is now building here. These are the well known and long established principles of Neo-evangelicalism, and it is a great grief to see such principles taking root in conservative circles. The last sentence quoted contains the very quintessence of Neo-evangelicalism, which always blurs the distinction between the kingdom of God and the domain of the devil, by treating the present world as though it were of God.

As to God being primarily concerned with religious pursuits, this is no “illusion,” but the very truth, and every revival in history bears witness to the fact. Only let the Spirit of God take hold of any people, and immediately the temporal matters and secular concerns which had engrossed their hearts become insignificant and trivial, while religion becomes the grand concern, and the chief topic of all their talk. Let any man read “The Mark of an Awakening” in the May issue of this magazine, and say whether it is an illusion that God is primarily concerned with religious pursuits.

As to the first two of the numbered propositions, they stand directly against both the spirit and the content of the New Testament as a whole----and I may add, directly against the spiritual instincts of the godly. “It is not reason,” say the twelve apostles, “that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts. 6:2)----not reason, that is, that the ministers of Christ should leave the spiritual for the sake of the physical. And to this the spiritual instincts of the whole church of God give immediate and entire assent, for we all know that the spiritual vastly transcends the physical. It is no “false assumption” that God is far more interested in our souls than in our bodies, though it is certainly true that he cares for our bodies, and for our temporal affairs also. The hairs of our heads are all numbered. Our Father feedeth the fouls of the air, and we are much better than they. But observe, the propositions in this article are not designed to teach us what God does, but to define what we ought to do. The purpose is not to teach us of God's tender care, but to define “the Christian work ethic.” The obvious and only possible design of this is to inculcate the principle that since God cares as much for our bodies as for our souls, since God is as interested in our temporal affairs as he is in our eternal, it is our business to be so also. This is directly against the Bible. The very passage of Scripture which teaches us most thoroughly of the care of our Father for our bodies and our temporal needs is written precisely to teach us not to concern ourselves with them.

“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” (Matt. 6:25). “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithall shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.” (Matt. 6:31-32). The Gentiles are the ungodly, and what occupies them ought not to occupy us. We have more important concerns. I should remark that “take no thought” would be very properly translated “care not,” or “be not concerned.” The word is translated “care” elsewhere, referring not to anxiety, but to legitimate cares. “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (I Cor. 7:34). I cite this scripture only to illustrate the meaning of the word “care,” but I must turn aside to notice that it is one of many which come to mind which directly overturn the principle set forth in this article, that eternal things are not more important than temporal. The whole chapter from which I quote this verse, the seventh chapter of I Corinthians, directly and forcefully establishes the fact that the eternal IS of much greater importance than anything and everything temporal----much more important even than marriage, which to most minds is the most important matter pertaining to this life. The second proposition of this article, that “The things of our life after death are far more important than the things pertaining to our life in time,” is no “false assumption” at all, but the very truth of God, established not only by the whole of I Corinthians 7, but by the whole tenor of the whole New Testament, and by numerous explicit statements of the same.

In Matthew 6:19-20, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, ...but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”----whence it plainly appears that the eternal is of much greater importance than the temporal. And again, “Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (vs. 33). Why “first,” if the temporal and the eternal are of equal importance? And note, the kingdom of God is here explicitly contrasted with things temporal and earthly, and this text certainly teaches us that we are to regard the spiritual and the eternal as vastly more important than the physical and the temporal. Again, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life.” (John 6:27). How so, if the former is not far more important?

It is hardly necessary to affirm that this text does not teach us not to labor at all for the meat which perisheth. Such a notion is hyperspiritual, and false. I do not write to establish anything hyperspiritual, but only to plead for that which is truly spiritual, and it is a grand certainty that to spiritual men, the eternal is of much greater importance than the temporal, and the soul than the body. The fact is, Scripture frequently commands us to deny ourselves the temporal for the sake of the eternal, but never the reverse. And why not, if the two are to be regarded as of equal weight and importance? The Bible advises us even to sacrifice the body in order to save the soul. “Others were tortured [in their bodies], not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35). In plain English, the soul is far more important than the body, and it is our wisdom so to regard it, and our safety to act accordingly.

Look where we will in the Bible, this is its uniform testimony. “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” (Luke 12:33). And “Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.” 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 6:21, 24-25). From all which it plainly appears that we are to disregard or sacrifice the temporal, in order to secure the eternal----and how then are the two equally important?

Again, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” (Matt. 10:28). How does it appear here that it is a false assumption that “God is far more interested in people's souls than their bodies”? How does this scripture teach us that “God is interested in the whole person, not in a disembodied soul”? When the body is killed, we are not whole persons, but precisely disembodied souls.

Again, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while 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. 4:16-18). How does it appear from this that the body is as important as the soul, or that “What goes on in both time and eternity are equally real and important”? Equally real, perhaps, but equally important is another matter. It is safe to say that everything in this scripture is directly against the principles of this article.

Again, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (I Cor. 9:11). This assumes that the value of the spiritual vastly exceeds that of the physical, and this assumption is the very foundation of spirituality, to which the heartbeat of the true remnant will most surely and cordially assent.

Other scriptures of the same nature clamor for a place here, but I fear to weary my readers with too much of the same sort. I proceed to notice the third of the numbered propositions which I have quoted above. If it is a false assumption that life is divided into the secular and the sacred, why is it that God explicitly condemns the confusion of the two? “The word of the Lord” by the prophet Ezekiel is this: “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have PUT NO DIFFERENCE between the holy and profane.” (Ezek. 22:26). The word “profane” bears a different sense in modern English than it does in the Bible. Its meaning in the Bible is “common” or “secular.” “The holy and the profane,” then, are precisely “the sacred and the secular”----the words are so rendered in the Berkeley Version----and God condemns those who put no difference between them.

I know that there is a grain of truth in this proposition. I know that we ought to do all that we do----sacred or secular----for the glory of God. But to make the two equally important, or equally spiritual, is to cut directly across the grain of the spiritual instincts of the church. Such principles might have applied in the garden of Eden, but they forget that man is now a sinner, that the earth is under the curse of God, that the world is under the dominion of Satan, that “the time is short,” that “the fashion of this world passeth away,” that all that man is now building under the sun is shortly to be destroyed, and that therefore we ought to be about our Father's business----which is spiritual, and not milking cows or building houses.

But I proceed to the fourth proposition. It is a “false assumption,” we are told, that “Becoming a minister, evangelist, or missionary is the only way to serve God in a vocation.” This is really only an extension of the third proposition. We grant there is a grain of truth here, and the statement may be technically true, yet its spirit and emphasis are all wrong. In explanation of this principle the article says, “When we can realize that God has placed us in our job to co-labor with Him, contributing to His creation, it leads to a sense of dignity and destiny in our work.” Quite so, no doubt, but that sense of dignity and destiny will be at the expense of spirituality. If these principles are true, then Paul ought to have felt as much sense of dignity and destiny in his tent-making as he did in his apostleship. It is precisely this which these principles are designed to establish. But it was not so with Paul. He could say, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel,” but certainly not “Woe is me if I make not tents.” The latter is so palpably false that it must in fact be an outrage upon the spiritual instincts of every spiritual man. No doubt Paul could glorify God in making tents, by working honestly and conscientiously, and by using the proceeds of his work for the cause of Christ, for which he lived, but making tents had nothing to do with the purpose of his life. It was an incidental, a trifle, a means to earn his bread and butter----nothing more----whereas to preach Christ was his life. Every saint of God may engage in secular work, if necessity so requires, whether or not he is called of God to public ministry. And every saint of God is certainly called of God to promote the spiritual interests of Christ, so far as his spiritual gifts and state enable him, though he may work at a secular occupation to earn his bread. The spiritual is our life and purpose, the secular only incidental. To make them of equal importance is really to destroy the spirituality of the church.

Understand, the only possible effect of this fourth proposition is to secularize the church----to make the whole church unspiritual, and give divine sanction to that unspirituality. I scarcely need appeal to Scripture on this point, so confident am I that the spiritual instincts of every spiritual soul----that the very heartbeat of the remnant----will bear me out. If it is a man's life to preach Christ, we all feel that this is as it should be. If it is his life to make cabinets or to raise corn, we all feel instinctively----and rightly----that he is unspiritual, if not ungodly. Yet this is exactly what these principles require----that we put no difference between a sacred mission and a secular occupation----that we feel the same dignity and destiny in the one as in the other----that the secular is the work of the Lord the same as the sacred. No spiritual man can brook such a principle. The Lord said to fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” but where in all history did he ever say to an apostle, “Follow me, and I will make you a catcher of fish”? The notion is preposterous to spiritual sense. Such principles simply destroy spirituality. God took Elisha from following the plow to make him a prophet of God, and Elisha burnt the plow and sacrificed the oxen. Why so, if there was equal dignity and destiny in plowing as in prophesying? And where did God ever take a man from the prophetic office to make him a plowman?

Surely a prophet of God may plow the ground, if an apostle may make tents, but neither the one nor the other give us any excuse for exalting the secular to the level of the sacred, or debasing the sacred to the level of the secular. The fact is, I am engaged in secular work myself. I paint signs for a living, and sometimes engage in more menial employments also, but I surely feel no dignity nor destiny in any of it. It is a necessity, that is all. I have rent to pay, and a family to feed. I tell my customers, “I live to preach, and paint signs to live.” What would they----what would my readers----think of me if the matter were reversed? Or what would they think of me if I could say, “I live to paint signs and to preach”? What could they think of me if I felt equal dignity and destiny in painting signs as I do in preaching, or if I felt that both of them were equally the work of the Lord? They would rightly judge me unspiritual, and unfit to preach. The sign painting I could give up at any time----and would most gladly do so if I could. The preaching I could not give up but with my life. The painting I would give up at a moment's notice, if necessity would but permit it. The preaching, and the writing, I could never give up at all, unless the sternest necessity absolutely compelled it.

Before I was converted it was my desire and my plan to go to college and become a high school English teacher. After I was converted I retained the same plan for some months, but found that the desire for it faded away. My heart was now engaged to serve Christ, and it never once entered my head that teaching English to high school students would be serving Christ. I had no specific call of God to any particular ministry, yet I knew very well that the service of Christ was spiritual, not secular, and I therefore shortly abandoned all my secular plans, and enrolled at a Bible institute. I could not then, and cannot now, understand how anyone committed to the cause of Christ could pursue mere secular goals----much less how they could claim the call of God for it.

As for our secular occupations, it is immaterial whether we work at a laundry, or in a grocery store, or in a shipping department, or whether we wash pots and pans in a kitchen----and I have done all of this since I have been converted. None of these things are the service of Christ, though all may be used to earn our daily bread, and all of them may be used as occasions for the service of Christ. Paul says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (I Cor. 7:20)----not because of any divine appointment to that place, (as it plainly appears in the next verse), but rather because it is incidental and immaterial. It makes no difference whether I wash pots and pans, or cut meat in a grocery store. I have done both, but neither one had anything to do with my purpose in life. Indeed, that is unaffected whether I am a slave or free. Paul goes on, in the next verse, to say, “Are thou called being a servant? CARE NOT FOR IT: but if thou mayest be made free, USE IT RATHER.”----for you have no divine appointment to either the one place or the other, both the one and the other being entirely incidental and immaterial----“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.” Bond or free, married or unmarried, fisherman or physician, is all the same. We may serve Christ as well in one state as in another, for the service of Christ is spiritual, and distinct from every secular position and all earthly affairs. Paul only goes so far as to recommend that secular place which will leave us most free from care and distraction, and so best able to wait upon the Lord. Otherwise it is simply “Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” This, because “the time is short” (verse 29), and “the fashion of this world passeth away” (verse 31). All of these earthly places are transient, insignificant----to be retained or refused only as helps or hindrances to the work of the Lord, which is spiritual.

But to turn all of these secular positions and occupations into the service of Christ----to say, as Neo-evangelicalism commonly does, that God needs good doctors and lawyers and school teachers and auto mechanics and waitresses----this is just to turn the world into the kingdom of God. And let us well understand, regardless of how many good men may have imbibed or embraced such doctrines, they originated with the Neo-evangelicals. They originated, that is, in a movement which consists of little else than worldliness----a movement which from its inception has shunned the reproach of Christ, repudiated separation from the world, sneered at spirituality, and courted the approval of the world at every point.

But enough. I notice but one more statement from this article. “Good work well done is as essential a part of fulfilling the `Great Commission' as it is a fulfillment of the `Cultural Mandate.”'

The “Great Commission” we know, but what is the “Cultural Mandate”? The whole church has recognized and bowed to the “Great Commission” for centuries, but this “Cultural Mandate” was never heard of before the present generation. And whence did it originate? It comes to us from the most thoroughly worldly portion of modern Evangelicalism----from the Reconstructionists, or Post-millennialists, whose very doctrines and principles assume that the world is the kingdom of God. This movement knows nothing of the fact that the devil is the prince of this world, or that the judgement of God is soon to fall upon all that man is building here. This so-called “Cultural Mandate” is really nothing more than an endeavor to put a divine sanction upon the most thorough worldliness. There is no “Cultural Mandate” in the New Testament. Yet this article puts this “Cultural Mandate” alongside the “Great Commission,” as though both were of God, and as though both were recognized by the church of God. This is not the case. The Great Commission is of God. The “Cultural Mandate” is of the world. Where do Christ or his apostles teach us to work together with God to make “his physical, temporal world run smoothly”? Can this possibly be the business of “pilgrims and strangers on the earth”?

We have nothing against “good work well done,” if the right thing is meant by it. If this means skilled craftsmanship, to fulfill the “Cultural Mandate,” this is only building in the world----as Lot in Sodom----with the judgement of God hanging over it. “Seeing then that all these things shall be destroyed, what manner of persons ye ought to be in all holy conversation in godliness.” (II Pet. 3:11). But if the author means simply working honestly and conscientiously, we grant that this may contribute even to fulfill the Great Commission. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). The “good works” here are moral, not physical, yet “good work well done” is a moral thing----and nothing optional, by the way, but a simple matter of righteousness. And though it is certainly not the work of the Lord, it may open the door for the work of the Lord.

From 1976 to 1981 I worked for Manpower, a temporary services agency, often doing difficult and menial jobs. I certainly felt no “dignity” or “destiny” in this, as though it were the work of the Lord. My sole purpose was to earn a living. I worked for Manpower so that I would be free to do the work of the Lord----with no long-term commitments, and able to work as much or as little as necessity required. One day when I called the office for a job for the next day, the manager said to me, “What do you do to charm these people? I have everybody calling and asking for you by name.” I told her, “I do only one thing to charm anybody: when I get on the job, I work.” I surely believe in “good work well done”----but never dreamed that this was the work of the Lord. At the present time I salvage, repair, and sell wooden pallets to supplement my income from my sign business, which is not always sufficient. Only yesterday I took in a load of pallets to sell, and while I was unloading them the woman in charge came out to pay me, and said, “When you bring in a load of pallets I don't even have to look at them. I know they're good.” Nor did anyone trouble themselves to count them, but accepted without question the figure which I gave them. This is simple righteousness, and every child of God ought to have such a reputation for “good work well done.” And such “good work well done” may contribute even to the Great Commission, if at the same time we “let our light shine” by preaching the gospel. This is doubtless the endeavor of every spiritual man, but to this spiritual purpose this article must add a worldly one, recommending “good work well done” for secular ends----to fulfill “the Cultural Mandate”----to contribute something to this present world. Surely this is a blow at the root of spirituality.

But some who may wish to defend the article which I am reviewing will probably say that I have misunderstood it----that I impute to it more than is actually there. I think not. I have not misunderstood anything. I know well enough these Neo-evangelical principles. I know their source, and their downward tendency. We may hope that the author, and much more the selector, of this article may have failed to understand the real tendency of these principles, which they have obviously imbibed from others. It may be that, seeing only the grains of truth contained in the system, and lacking a sufficient knowledge of the word and ways of God, they have failed to perceive its evil tendency. I may hope so, but the principles of this article are evil for all that. Their tendency is only downward, and where Christian people adopt such principles, it will certainly be the beginning of the end of their spirituality.


Whence Comes “Book of Life” in Rev. 22:19?

by Glenn Conjurske

When Erasmus first published his Greek New Testament in 1516, he had only one manuscript of the Apocalypse, and that one defective at the end----nothing uncommon in manuscripts, and even in printed books, the first or last leaves often being worn out or torn away. In this predicament, and pressured by the printers to hasten the work, Erasmus did the best he could: he translated the last six verses of Revelation into Greek from the Latin Vulgate. At least, so men of sense and learning have believed for some centuries. The proof of the fact is simple enough. The text of his first edition does not follow the Greek mss., but the text of the Vulgate. Later editions of the Textus Receptus conformed these verses to the Greek mss., but for some reason the reading “book of life” was retained, though almost all the Greek evidence is for “tree of life.”

But certain of the King James Only folks are as proficient in denying some facts as they are in inventing others, and a recent book does just that in the present instance. I refer to Why Not the King James Bible! by Dr. Kirk D. DiVietro, which professes to be an answer to The King James Only Controversy, by James R. White. DiVietro asserts as fact just whatever his doctrine requires, and we find on pages 27-28, “Did Erasmus use `book of life' in Revelation 22:19 because he translated back from the Vulgate? What does the Vulgate say in Revelation 22:19. The Latin text of the verse reads ligno vitae `tree of life.' The Latin for `book of life' is libro vitae... One thing is sure. Erasmus did not get `book of life' from the Latin.”

But this statement is either ignorance or deception. We honestly suppose it to be ignorance, but if so it is hardly excusable ignorance, for DiVietro displays learning enough, quoting Greek, Hebrew, and Latin on the very page. That he saw ligno in some edition of the Vulgate we need not doubt, but he obviously refused to check any other editions, or refused to look at the variant readings at the foot of the page.

At any rate, his statement is certainly false. Understand, the issue is not what the reading of the Vulgate was (assuming that we can determine it) when Jerome translated it, nor yet what the reading of the Vulgate was in the old manuscripts of the sixth or seventh centuries. Neither does the issue have anything to do with what the reading of the Vulgate is in the modern critical editions, which are based upon those old manuscripts. The whole question is, What was the common reading of the Vulgate, in the printed editions of it, at the time of the Reformation, when Erasmus published his Greek New Testament? What, in other words, was the Vulgate reading most likely to be in Erasmus's hand? We might surely expect a Doctor of Divinity to understand that this is the issue, and surely have a right to expect him to learn the truth of the matter, before he publishes assertions concerning it.

We suppose DiVietro found the reading ligno in a modern critical edition of the Vulgate. I have three such critical editions, and it is true that all three of them read ligno for libro, that is, “tree” for “book,” but it is also true that all three of them give libro as a variant reading, in the notes at the bottom of the page. To trouble my readers with one only of these editions, the Editio Minor of Wordsworth and White's Vulgate reads ligno uitae in the text, but says in the note at the foot of the page, “ligno ACG: libro FVSC.” A, C, G, F, and V are ancient individual manuscripts. S and C are the Sixtine and Clementine editions of the Vulgate, published in 1590 and 1592. These, we see, read libro vitae, “book of life.”

And the fact is, this was the common reading of the published editions of the Vulgate at the time of the first edition of Erasmus, as it was also long before and long after that date. It was the common reading also of the later manuscripts of the Vulgate. Mark, I do not pretend to say that libro vitae, “book of life,” was the reading of all published editions of the Vulgate of that era. There are very many such editions, and I certainly have not examined all of them. Suffice it to say that it was the reading common to many of those editions, as it was to many of the later manuscripts of the Vulgate. And let us understand the issue here. If it could be shown that libro vitae was the reading of one manuscript or one edition of the Vulgate, which was likely to have been in the hands of Erasmus, this would be sufficient to disprove DiVietro's assertion that Erasmus could not have gotten it from the Vulgate.

But let us examine a little of the evidence. I have mentioned already that both the Sixtine and Clementine editions of the Vulgate, put forth by papal authority in 1590 and 1592 read “book of life.”

So also did Myles Coverdale's edition of the Vulgate, published with an English translation in 1538----that is, twenty-two years after the first edition of Erasmus. It should be understood that Coverdale published this work for the express purpose of appeasing those who professed dissatisfaction with the Protestant versions which were based upon the Greek. He therefore published the common Latin text, with an English translation, content that they should have the word of God in English, whether based upon the Greek or the Latin Vulgate. The Southwark edition, published during Coverdale's absence on the continent, reads libro uitæ. The Paris edition, also published in 1538, and under Coverdale's personal inspection, reads just the same, libro vitæ. As for the difference in spelling between these two editions, permit me to point out “u” and “v” were originally only different forms of the same letter, as observant folks might discover from the fact that our printed W, which is a double V in form, is yet called a “double U.” The V form eventually came to be used as a consonant, and the U as a vowel, but the case was just reversed in the English of a few centuries ago. In the Latin, they are one letter, and there is no distinction between them in many ancient mss.

The edition of the Vulgate which Martin Luther produced in 1529 reads just the same: libro vitæ.1

The most compelling evidence comes from the Complutensian Polyglott, which was printed only two years before Erasmus's Greek New Testament, though it was not published till a few years afterwards. Observe that, contrary to Erasmus's editions, the Greek column of the Complutensian reads “tree ( v ) of life,” not “book of life,” while the adjacent column which contains the Latin Vulgate reads libro vite, that is “book of life.” We could hardly seek a stronger proof of what was the ACTUAL READING OF THE LATIN VULGATE but two years before the publication of Erasmus's first edition. It should be understood also that the editor of the Complutensian edition regarded the Greek text as corrupt, and the Latin as the true standard. In some places (as I John 5:7) he actually altered the Greek text to conform it to the Latin, with no support from Greek manuscripts. In other places, such as this one, he let the Greek stand as he found it in the Greek manuscripts, though it stood in contradiction of the Latin.

While at Robert Van Kampen's Scriptorium, in Grand Haven, Michigan, on Nov. 14, 1996, I examined several editions of the Vulgate printed before Erasmus's first edition, and found “book of life” the reading of all of them.

The first printed edition of the Vulgate, the famous Gutenberg Bible, reads libro vite, “book of life.” Later editions read the same:

Van Kampen No. 405. (This book is described on pages 3-5 of The Bible as Book, published by the Scriptorium.) The colophon, appearing on the same page as Rev. 22:19, reads in part, “Nicolai Jenson Gallici .M.cccc.lxxix.”----informing us that the book was printed by Nicolas Jenson in 1479. The book reads in Rev. 22:19, auferet deus parteá eius de libro vite, “God will take away his part from the book of life.”

Van Kampen No. 431, described on pages 19-20 of The Bible as Book, and therein dated 1476/7 (though I did not find this date in the book itself), also reads libro vite, “book of life.”

Another, printed in 1477, also reads libro vite, “book of life.”

This may suffice to show how much confidence may be placed in the assertion of DiVietro that Erasmus could not have gotten “book of life” from the Vulgate. The real fact is, he could have gotten it from any one of numerous printed editions of the Vulgate which were available to him, as well as from thousands of Latin manuscripts, from which the printed editions copied it.

If we look at the fourteenth-century versions which were translated from the Vulgate, we find just the same testimony. The earlier Wycliffe Bible reads, “êe book of lijf.” The later Wycliffe Bible reads just the same.

The German Codex Teplensis, translated from the Vulgate somewhere about the same time as the Wycliffe Bible, reads puch dez lebenz, “book of life,” puch being an old spelling of the modern German Buch, that is, “book.”

The Mentel Bible, the first printed Bible in German, which appeared in 1466, reads, gott nympt ab seinen teyl von dem bu`che des lebens----that is, “from the book of life.” I hardly need point out that this version is derived from the Vulgate, as all the medieval versions were.

The medieval Waldensian version in the old Romance language, translated also from the Vulgate, reads just the same: Dio ostare la partia de lui del libre de vita----libre de vita being “book of life.”

These medieval versions indicate that “book of life” was the common reading of the Vulgate at that period in France, England, and Germany. I am quite well aware that the same sort of folks who will assert that libro is not the reading of the Vulgate, will contend that none of these versions were translated from the Vulgate----many of them have done so----but they were translated from the Vulgate for all that. The assertions to the contrary are made by people who have never examined the evidence----or examined it with such prejudiced eyes that they could not see it. Doctrinal prejudice is the only foundation for such assertions, as it is for Dr. DiVietro's assertion that libro is not the reading of the Vulgate. The same man, in the same book, asserts that the Septuagint does not exist. Does not a doctrine which requires such continual falsification of the facts prove itself de facto false? If it were a matter of an occasional mistake, we might all bear with it. We all make mistakes, but it is another matter to frequently or habitually support our own position by reckless and empty assertions, which have not the shadow of truth in them, when we might very easily know better----indeed, when we hold the evidence to the contrary in our very hands. This is a serious wrong.

Ï Stray Notes on the English Bible Ï

by the Editor


We read in the common English Bible, that “Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife, and how saidst thou, She is my sister?” (Gen. 26:8-9).

The term “sporting” is a general one, and we need not inquire specifically what Isaac was doing with Rebekah. It suffices us to know that there are many things in looks, in words, in actions, and in general deportment which are likely to pass between lovers, for which brothers and sisters have neither occasion nor inclination. Abimelech saw something of this nature between Isaac and Rebekah, and rightly guessed that he would not have done so with his sister.

The word “sporting” is a little quaint in this connection, but this is no hardship. We expect quaint expressions in an ancient book, and to remove them is actually a loss. Something of the reverence due to age is inevitably sacrificed if we put the ancient Book in too modern a dress. And quaint or not, the meaning of “sporting” is so crystal clear in the context that not the dullest dolt could mistake it.

But does it aptly represent the original? I believe it does. The Hebrew word, which is used but rarely, means to laugh, to mock, or to play. It appears in Exodus 32:6, where “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Again in Judges 16:25, where Samson “made them sport.” The old English versions all give such a general sense to the word in our text. Wycliffe has “pleiyinge” (playing), and all versions from Tyndale to the Revised Version have “sporting.” The four Jewish versions which I have also read “sporting.”

Though a little quaint to modern ears, we suppose that this was neither inaccurate nor unintelligible. We could hardly expect, however, that the liberal spirit of modern times would let well enough alone. According to the RSV, Abimelech “saw Isaac fondling Rebekah.” According to the Berkeley Version, “he saw Isaac caressing his wife.” After these we are almost afraid to look at the NIV, but duty compels us, and there we also find Isaac caressing his wife. So also in the NASV, while according to the New King James Version, “there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife.”

Now I beg the reader to observe that none of these modern renderings are translations. They are, all of them, paraphrases. They are interpretations. Needless and useless interpretations too, for most of us over the age of ten were competent to interpret the verse ourselves.

Well, but what sort of interpretations are they? We suppose that “showing endearment” is a fairly accurate interpretation, assuming that we have the liberty to interpret this interpretation as designating romantic “endearment,” (for there are other kinds)----but, after all, that was as clear with “sporting” as it is with “showing endearment.” “Showing endearment” is general enough to pass for an accurate interpretation, but we did not need an interpretation, and the expression itself is as insipid as it is fastidious----and every bit as quaint and out of the ordinary as “sporting.” And “sporting” is much more accurate as a translation than “showing endearment.” The latter is not a translation at all, for it is an absolute certainty that the Hebrew word does not mean “showing endearment.”

As for “fondling” and “caressing,” among other faults, they share the fault common to most paraphrases----namely, that they are too specific. It is possible that Isaac's playing may have included fondling or caressing, but this is certainly not necessary, nor perhaps even likely. These events did not take place on a modern college campus. If memory serves me rightly, there were other ways in olden times to show romantic attachment than by fondling and caressing. Isaac may have been flirting as well as fondling----and the former would as certainly have indicated that Rebekah was not his sister as the latter. If we wish a specific translation, “flirting” or “teasing” might lie within the realm of accuracy, while “fondling” and “caressing” certainly do not. They are no more translations of the Hebrew word than “kissing” is----though Isaac may have done that also. But we need nothing more specific than “sporting.” The original is general, and may include various things. Common sense knows, whatever those things may have been, they were things which obviously indicated romantic attachment, and common sense inquires no further.


Meat and Bones

by Glenn Conjurske

The excellent biographer of John Newton relates the following occurrence, which took place while Newton was visiting a friend. “This friend was a minister, who affected great accuracy in his discourses; and who, on that Sunday, had nearly occupied an hour in insisting on several laboured and nice distinctions made in his subject. As he had a high estimation of Mr. N.'s judgment, he enquired of him, as they walked home, whether he thought the distinctions just now insisted on were full and judicious. Mr. N. said he thought them not full, as a very important one had been omitted.----`What can that be?' said the minister: `for I had taken more than ordinary care to enumerate them fully.'----`I think not,' replied Mr. N. `for, when many of your congregation had travelled several miles for a meal, I think you should not have forgotten the important distinction which must ever exist between MEAT and BONES.”'

We much admire this faithful admonition, and believe there is as much need of it in the present day as ever there was. This dealer in bones is too apt a picture of thousands who fill the pulpits all over this land today. Their preaching is intellectual, speculative, and doctrinal, addressed all to the head, with nothing for the heart. It is dry and lifeless. No warmth, no unction, no feeling, no breath of God in it. It may present a little of sound instruction, but presents it in such a way that it can scarcely take root, for there is nothing in it to move or engage the heart.

I believe the deadest, driest, emptiest preaching I ever heard came from a man who had graduated some years before from the Bible institute at which I was then a student. He was then assistant pastor at a large and influential church in the area. He preached about the gospel (no harm in that), and told us----with a three-point alliterated outline, of course----that it was a gospel of peace, a gospel of pardon, and a third point which I cannot remember. The only reason I remember any of it is because it was so good an example of such bad preaching. Here was a neat little pile of bones, for it is certain there was no meat on them. Whether the preacher was alive or dead, awake or asleep, was hard to tell, but one thing was certain: he was not called of God to preach. The fact is, he had nothing to say. Nothing even to teach, for I am sure enough that every one of his hearers knew the things which he preached as well as he did.

These homiletical outlines are often served up as intended meals for the people of God, by preachers who have nothing else to offer. I have nothing against a meal of spare ribs, if there is meat on the bones, but some of these ribs are spare indeed, for the preachers know nothing of the difference between meat and bones, and meat is a commodity which they do not possess. They are not taught of God, though they have been well enough taught of men. They have been taught how to get up a sermon, and carry it into the pulpit with them, and dish it up cold and dry, when they have no rivers of living water flowing out from their belly. While I was a student at Bible school I attended a large city church, pastored by a graduate of a prominent seminary which emphasizes what is called “expository preaching.” This man preached through the book of First Thessalonians, with a minute and meticulous alliterated outline of the whole book, every word of it beginning with the letter “P.” Yet there was precious little meat on the bones. The preacher spent much of his time repeating and reviewing this outline, and some of his infatuated hearers avidly penned down every word of it, doubtless supposing their souls were being fed.

And here, indeed, lies one of the great evils in the church of the present day. We have a great multitude of intellectuals who are actually hungry for bones. They relish bones, and congratulate the preachers who feed them with bones. Of spiritual experience they know little, and want less. Their Christianity consists of little else than learning and knowing, or knowing and teaching. Intellectual pabulum just suits them. Give them Greek tenses and Hebrew roots, ancient customs, wire-drawn distinctions, technical definitions, subtle contrasts, fine-spun theories, and they are as happy as bees in clover. I say nothing of the fact that many of those distinctions and definitions are false. Even if true, they are bones, when divorced from the religion of the heart. All is in the mind, while the hearts and souls of the people remain cold and dry and withered and shallow. Meat they care little for.

Yet it is the business of shepherds to feed the sheep, whatever the sheep may want. It seems to be a fact that the sheep have little hunger for spiritual food, but that may be because they have never tasted much of it. The old proverb which says “Appetite comes with eating” is true, and I dare suppose that some of those sheep who have been fed all their lives with dry hay might easily enough be taught to relish green grass, if they but had a shepherd who could lead them to it. But when the pastors are in the same condition as the people, there is little hope of this.

It seems to me that the ministry of the church as a whole is very deficient at this point. Preachers aim generally at the wrong thing in their preaching. Many of them aim primarily to teach----merely to impart knowledge. They themselves have been “prepared for the ministry” by going to school, the primary (or exclusive) purpose of which was to give them knowledge. They graduate from their course of preparation with a full head and an empty heart, and they enter the ministry with a false idea of what ministry consists of. They themselves have never learned to weep, nor to feel. They may have full heads, but they have no burning hearts. They do not so much as aim to warm the soul, to stir the spirit, to make the heart burn. For this reason they preach primarily from the didactic portions of Scripture----the doctrinal portions of the New Testament epistles----while they ignore the rest. The fact is, they do not know what to do with the rest. If they proceed to the historical portions of the Old Testament, it is usually only to extract a few bones, while they leave the meat alone. They extract a few doctrinal proofs from these portions, but have little interest in the human experience----the vivid portraits of the human heart and soul----the exquisite delineations of the ways of God----which lie as nuggets on the ground throughout the Old Testament. All of this is lost upon them. They have no eye for it.

I need not here insist upon the fact that the educational courses by which men are “prepared for the ministry” commonly turn out more dealers in bones than anything else. What I do insist on is that they are powerless to turn out anything more than that. The general content of those courses is almost irrelevant to their aim. Doubtless some knowledge is required to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, but it is a certain fact that two men may know the same things and yet be worlds apart as preachers. One of them turns every bone he touches to meat, while the other turns all the meat to bones. The spirit of the man determines this, and it is certainly not knowledge which will give him depth or warmth or pathos or power.

The manner in which different sorts of men pass through the Scriptures may be likened to a man riding his horse over a range of mountains. The soul of the man is ravished with the view, while the beast beneath him sees nothing but the grass under his feet. What an immense difference, for example, do we find in the Old Testament commentaries of Keil and Delitszch, and the Old Testament Contemplations of Bishop Hall. Hall is nearly all meat, and Keil and Delitszch nearly all bones. We do not say there is no value in the bones----only that they are nothing to the meat. Yet we live in a generation which prints and reprints and buys and reads and studies Keil and Delitszch, and which scarcely knows that Bishop Hall ever existed. We live, in short, in a generation which relishes bones, and has little taste for meat.

But my readers may wish me to be more specific. By bones I refer in the first place to such things as critical or linguistic studies, such as exercise the mind, but leave the heart unmoved and the conscience untouched. By meat I refer to those things which belong to human experience, and to walking with God. It is not that I hold the bones to be of no value. Not at all. Even the driest of them have some worth in refuting errors and establishing truth. But I have a few things to say of these bones:

First, they are of little value in comparison to the matters which belong to the heart and life.

Next, they become a positive detriment when they begin to occupy too large a place in a man's thoughts or studies or ministry. A steady diet of these bones is death to the soul and death to the church.

Finally, a very great host of those men who have been of the greatest worth in the cause of Christ have been almost entirely ignorant of those things. I refer to such men as John Bunyan, Peter Cartwright, D. L. Moody, Sam Hadley, and Gipsy Smith.

To this I may add that the Bible has scarcely a word to say along the lines of these things. Yet intellectuals turn the Bible itself into a field of dry bones. The doctrinal and prophetic content of Scripture is made the tool of mere knowledge, or of mere controversy. Thus it is dried and salted to the point that if it can be called meat at all, it is certainly only jerky. A spiritual man and an intellectual man may handle the very same doctrines or portions of Scripture, yet in the hands of the one it is all meat, and in the hands of the other, all bones.

Take the precious book of Genesis. What an inexhaustible supply of food for the heart we find here! What a mine of the knowledge of God----yea, and of the knowledge of man, and sin, and Satan, and the world. What a wealth of spiritual experience is here. What pictures of the soul of man----and of woman. Here is meat indeed. But some men have little taste for these things. One man may traverse the book of Genesis, and find “seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured,” feeding in a meadow. Another man passes through the same book, and finds “seven other kine, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed.” One finds “seven ears upon one stalk, rank and good,” while another finds only “seven thin ears, ... blasted with the east wind.” The dealers in bones may traverse this precious book in the length of it and the breadth of it, and come out with nothing but bones. A chart of the bygone dispensations! It is bones which they seek, and bones they find. And dead and dry bones at that, for most of them know but little of the marrow of dispensationalism.

Another will traverse the same ground and produce only an analysis of Bible Chronology. Bones. Another may spend ten years studying the precious book, and emerge with nothing more than a few intricate theories of ethnology. Dry bones. A bone or two of this sort here and there may have its use, and we might even find a scrap of meat attached to some of them, but surely it was not for this bone-hunting that God gave us the book of Genesis.

And mere dead bones are not intriguing enough for some. It is fossils they want, and fossils they find. “Creation science” is their first love, and in their hands all the spirituality of the book of Genesis evaporates, and the whole is reduced to a sort of handbook to guide them in their scientific studies. When they traverse the precious book, they do not find the ways of God, nor the soul of man, nor the ways of faith. They have little taste for such things, their minds being occupied rather with “the young earth,” or theories of star-light, or with “the Nephilim,” or the nature and extent of the flood. Bones. They may have most interesting theories as to the meaning of the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep at the coming of the flood, but they know nothing of the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep of the human soul. That is entirely beyond them.

One of the earliest of these “creation science” men, Harry Rimmer, published a book in 1947 entitled Lot's Wife and the Science of Physics. Lot's wife! What a theme is she for the tongue of the preacher, the pen of the poet, the tears of the angels! But we wonder what “the science of physics” may have to do with this. We read the book and find a long-drawn-out theory concerning the body-shaped holes in the ruins of Pompei, caused by the leaching away of the salt into which those bodies were turned by the volcanic lava. Lot's wife, we are told, lagged behind. The distance between her and her husband became greater and greater, till she was swallowed up in the cataclysm, and eventually----over the course of who knows how many years----turned by chemical transmutation into salt. And is this all the man can find in Lot's wife? These are bones indeed. Does to look back mean to lag behind? And did Lot's wife lag so far behind that she was still in the vicinity of Sodom when Lot and his daughters had entered the city of Zoar? Can a body lying buried in volcanic ash be called a pillar of salt? And who excavated the ruins of Sodom to discover this “pillar of salt,” and to attest that it was indeed Lot's wife?

We hardly dare dignify such notions with the name of bones. Bones may have some use, but these notions are worse than useless. A dog might gnaw a bone, but who can eat fossils? Yet Rimmer was a good man, who wrote some good things, and at any rate served up his fossils with a little sauce----a thing which some of his successors have quite forgotten. They give us fossils only, with no food for the soul.

But these fossils may actually do less damage than the dry bones which a great host of preachers habitually serve up to their poor congregations. The fossils are usually served only as a side dish, whereas the dealers in bones usually serve them for the whole meal. They feed their people with nothing else. They know nothing else. Not that their teaching is false----only that it is dead, dry, and intellectual. There is very much in these bones which is true enough. A great deal of the doctrinal, dispensational, and prophetic teaching which comes from these pulpits is orthodox and unexceptional as far as it goes, but it is bones for all that, for it has little or no connection with the religion of the heart. There is nothing in it to stir the spirit or warm the soul. It feeds the intellect, and no more.

Some years ago I attended for a time a Baptist church, pastored by a well-educated man, whose preaching was dry and empty. An old and uneducated man at the church once said to me, after hearing one of this man's sermons, “This place ought to be just like a restaurant. People ought to come here hungry, and go away full. But it isn't so. They come here empty, and they go away empty.”

The people gather on the hillside to enjoy the beauty of the sunset, and the preacher gives them a technical lecture on the size of the sun, its distance from the earth, the manner in which these things are measured, the composition of the atmosphere, the properties of light, and the manner in which it is refracted. They come for food, and he feeds them with air.

It goes without saying that the church stands in need of revival. The revival which we need consists of many things. Among the foremost of them are certainly these, to recognize that orthodoxy is not Christianity, that doctrine is not religion, that knowledge is not wisdom, that heads are not hearts, that intellectualism is not spirituality----in short, that bones are not meat.

There are some bones which have their uses----some indeed which are absolutely necessary----but a diet of bones is death to the church. The teachers of the church have need for some most solemn consideration in the presence of God and eternity, in the presence of sin and death and hell, concerning what is weighty and what is trivial----what is worth their time and energy, and what is a waste----what is meat, and what is bones.


Î Old Time Revival Scenes Î


Having seen, at Moorefort and elsewhere, in the county of Antrim, very many cases of conviction among the people, I thought it well to call together the inhabitants of Newtown on the following Lord's day, the 5th June, in order to relate the wonders I had seen there, and to pray to God to pour out a similar blessing upon us.

A large assembly took place, and another meeting was decided on for Monday. After the speaking in the open air on that evening, two cases took place, attended, as usual, by violent and irresistible screaming, the body prostrate and reduced to a helpless condition. Presently, this state of things subsides, and, with subdued voice, a call “for Jesus” escapes their lips, the body becomes quiet, and, in due time, (varying very much as to its duration) a full confession of His blessed name flows from their hearts and lips, and they stand up, declaring they have found peace with God through the atoning blood of His beloved Son. On Tuesday, six cases occurred; on Wednesday, about thirty; on Thursday, to avoid any disunion, all parties assembled in a public place of worship, but there was no manifestation. On Friday, in a field in front of my own house, an immense work of God, and that in wonderful power, was presented to the astonished eyes and hearts of a vast concourse of beholders; not less than one hundred souls were brought under conviction of sin, the greater part being “struck down” to the ground. Some of the women and children were conveyed into the house; others followed to assist them, and, shortly, nearly every roon was crowded with persons, crying out and praying for mercy. The lawn was literally strewed, like a battle-field, with deeply-wounded, sin-stricken ones, under conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, who was revealing Christ to their souls, and giving them victory over the enemy by the blood of the Lamb.

But who can describe what was going on in the house? In one large room were gathered no less than thirty persons, on their knees, waiting and calling upon God in silent prayer for the remission of their sins; while the other rooms were filled with souls either calling out for mercy, praying, or singing praises to God for mercy received. This was going on in all parts of the house. It was wonderful to see strong men, whose well-known lives could, ere this, bear no examination, leap up from the ground and rejoice in God their Saviour, and begin at once to preach Christ to their companions and fellow-townsmen, beseeching them to cry for mercy and forgiveness.

This effusion embraced all ages from the little child up to the age of threescore and ten, but the converting power of the Holy Spirit was not confined to the outward manifestation, for it is believed that numbers of persons present that night were convicted of sin, and found peace with God, without being struck down. This truly wonderful time was followed, on Saturday night, by another display of power little less in extent. A much esteemed servant of Christ was unexpectedly present. The Lord blessed his visit. A very large shower of blessing took place, and his testimony was, that he had never witnessed anything in Antrim to equal it. This house was not emptied till 7 o'clock on the Lord's day morning. Up to this day, the 12th June, the manifestation had been, I believe, entirely confined to this locality, so much so, that many from the country flocked down to attend the meetings so much blessed. This was particularly the case on the annual fair-day, the 13th, when not less than 5000 persons (some say 7000) were assembled in the field, to hear the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Another scene of the gracious power of God was again manifested, and the field covered with groups of saved souls, ministering to the newly stricken ones, who were to be met with in all directions, and, as usual, seeking for mercy and pardon through the perfect atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

During the services on the Lord's day, this wonderful manifestation of the actual presence of God in the midst of us, broke forth in two places of public worship in the town, and afterwards spread over the country with great rapidity. Persons were struck down every where; in the cabins, fields, “highways and hedges,” apart from the ministry of the word. And now, the whole country is greatly reformed as to its outward conduct. Everywhere you may find persons meeting together, singing, praying, reading, and rejoicing. The results appear to be abiding; those who believe, (as the vast majority certainly do,) that the whole work is of God, look up, take courage and adore. Men and women who were abandoned characters, others well trained in all the usual morality of religion, are now alike rejoicing in the knowledge of sins forgiven, by the sacrifice once offered. No pen can adequately describe the scenes of this never-to-be-forgotten week; the Lord's name alone be praised for His wondrous grace, in richest blessing, to so many precious souls!

----Things New and Old, [edited by C. H. Mackintosh]. London: G. Morrish, Vol. II, [1859], pp. 165-168.

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