More Editorials from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.
T ODAY'S generation is characterised by many things, but one startling feature is its cynicism. While politicians and other pundits still promise to reward our trust by leading us to the broad, sunlit uplands of universal blessedness, increasingly their words are treated with public apathy or even scorn. The answers they propose for the world's problems have a stale, predictable air about them, sounding more and more alike whichever quarter they emerge from – but less and less convincing! People have begun to lose faith in the ability of their leaders to change things for the better. David recorded a similar, weary, spirit in his own time:
"O who will shew us any good? is that which many say" (Psa. 4:6).
This state of affairs should be no surprise to us. When mere men assume such a messianic mantle, they are obviously encroaching upon divine territory: it never was the province of "the powers that be" to fulfil men's dreams of ultimate happiness; "gods" they may be (Psa. 82:1, 6), but they shall die like other men, and the One who stands among them will inherit the nations instead. Therefore He counsels,
"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isa. 2:22).
What is humbling is to learn that the Church is not immune from this mistake. We should remember that it was to her leaders that Jesus said "they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:14). When ministers begin to preach anything apart from the pure doctrines of God, they shed abroad spiritual darkness rather than light. They may, like the scribes and Pharisees, preach themselves, saying in effect, "I am the way, follow me." This is the spirit of antichrist: the Redeemer's authority is supplanted, His uniqueness challenged. Equally common today, they may advocate political, social and economic change to create the Kingdom, affirming "This is the way, walk ye in it": so Christ's saving work is set aside.
The awesome thing is that Christ's observation is prefaced with the words "Let them alone." Such who wilfully close their eyes against the Truth incur divine displeasure, and for all their learning they are "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). A cataract forms over their soul, rendering their mind forever opaque to the true teaching of the Scriptures.
It is our conviction that our fore-fathers saw spiritual things far more clearly than we do today. Their God was ineffably holy; sin to them was exceeding sinful, and hell burned with a more terrifying flame. By contrast our vision always seems to be blurred: where once men spoke with definiteness, we engage in debate and dialogue; too many "yeas" and "nays" have been replaced by "maybes." In a better age there was less equivocation and more plain-speaking. Where have we gone wrong?
We must begin where the apostle Paul began – with the heavenly vision. It is an attractive feature of some Christians that they are reticent in telling of their personal experience of grace, for fear of promoting self, but that must never imply that such experience is not necessary. Indeed, the plainer the experience the greater may be the benefits to the individual. Each time Paul recounted what happened to him on the way to Damascus, the more wonderful did it appear to him: at the time he saw "a light from heaven" (Acts 9:3): twenty-five years later before his hostile kinsmen he recalled "a great light" (Acts 22:6); two years further on, he told king Agrippa of "a light.....above the brightness of the sun" (Acts 26:13). Faith is the equivalent of spiritual sight, and the eye of our soul must have a clear view of its object if we are to follow in the way, through evil and good report.
When Saul of Tarsus heard the voice of Jesus, he trembled. The Word of God written is now the sole source of our light and understanding: the ascended Christ continues to ride forth in the chariot of that Word, conquering, and to conquer (Rev. 6:2), and thereby the heavenly vision is still to be seen by men. But where is the trembling today?
Vernacular translations of the Scriptures vary in quality, allowing more or less of the divine original to be seen: our predecessors used a Bible in which the Word of God shone clearly, the English reproducing both the majesty and sense of the original. Great confusion is apparent today regarding both text and translation. No longer can many read their chosen version of the Holy Scriptures as they should, "with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God" (Larger Catechism Q.157): we hardly need wonder that the Church is in danger of losing her way; the Spirit will never bless what He has not Himself inspired. Only when divine power is once again upon our hearts will the practice of our lives match the lofty profession of our lips.
The lives of today's believers are far too cluttered. More than is strictly necessary unites us to this earth: we lavish too much attention upon our clay, to the neglect of our spirits. Thus we are found disobedient to the Voice which speaks from above. When Saul met the Lord Jesus his eyes were quite literally closed to temporal things for a season, and he abstained from food and drink. His soul feasted instead upon Christ within the veil.
We need to be far more radical in dealing with material excess. Covetousness is more prevalent than we will allow, and this sin spoils us of the vision of the holy. It takes unusual grace not to be corrupted by wealth and status, and we are mandated to follow a simple lifestyle after the pattern of our Lord and in view of His approaching return (Matt. 16:24; Phil. 4:5). Far more may be devoted to the Cause of Christ: we have never heard of the cults suffering from a lack of money – how shameful then that the Lord's people show such little appreciation of the true gospel! Tithing of our resources is a must.
Pleasures are more difficult to tackle than possessions, being less concrete. A body and mind that are intoxicated with worldly joys cannot be of service to the Lord: He has redeemed both – should He not therefore possess both? It is not enough to convince ourselves that a particular thing is lawful: is it profitable – or is there a danger that I may come under its control? (1 Cor. 6:12). The believer should continually reflect on his glorious inheritance in Christ, and delight himself with draughts from the river of the pleasures of God.
Few more misleading slogans have been coined than that which decries those who are "too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use." Without frequent meditation upon the Bible there will be nothing of the sweet savour of Christ about us, and we shall be no true guides to those who seek. Saul, being led to Damascus, lodged in the street which is called Straight (Acts 9:11). The revealed paths of our God are straight paths, morally and ethically right: though in His providence He may lead us in a roundabout way to our desired haven, we cannot have a true assurance of our final destination unless we are consciously walking in the light, aiming at heaven, our faces toward Zion.
For this we need the favour of God. While an ungodly world laments its leaders and despairs of anything better, let the saints lift up their hearts, and pray:
"But of thy countenance the light, Lord, lift on us alway."