More Editorials from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.
W E do not know whether the person who coined the saying, "All that glitters is not gold" was a believer, but he certainly captured in these words a teaching that is very clear in the Scriptures. Put simply the lesson is this: outward appearance, however impressive, is not an infallible guide to the true worth of a thing; it does not always indicate what lies beneath the surface. Man looks upon the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7): beware then that which may be attractive and desirable to the eyes!
As sinners we can scarcely understand the motions and inventions of our own hearts, let alone read those of others (Jer. 17:9). The elders of Christ's church are charged to try the profession of potential members, not by discerning the heart directly, but by noting the accrediting marks: knowledge of the truth, desire for the means of grace, a consistent, upright conduct. False converts have sometimes crept in from the world, but a double seed has always been found in the womb of the church too; the purposes of election and reprobation are developed within her walls.
Cain and Abel we believe were both lovingly instructed in the truths of God at their mother's knee: both brothers grew up possessing a religious spirit, to make their own way in the world. Nothing untoward was seen; no alarm registered with their parents. Each now engages in worship, making his own approach to God (Gen. 4:3, 4). An onlooker might notice the deficiency in Cain's devotions, and agree that Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" (Heb. 11:4), but would not easily conclude that the elder son was of "that wicked one" and that his works were "evil" (1 John 3:12). But after rejected Cain has calmly conversed with his brother, the inner lust sees its opportunity and breaks through the pious exterior; so his cruel hands spill the first martyr's blood (Matt. 23:35).
This truth encountered at the dawn of redemption's history is displayed in greatest clarity as revelation closes, and two great cities are presented to our view. Babylon, like the whore, has a superficial beauty which deceives many but is really only skin-deep, masking the corruption within: the apostle John sees her "decked with gold" but also "having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (Rev. 17:4). This is surely Satan's seat. The false church is not gold, but only gilded: she is a fraud, a fake, a counterfeit. But the new Jerusalem is gold, "pure gold, like unto clear glass" (Rev. 21:18): she is genuine through and through! What is manifest to the eye extends to every part! All her citizens are perfected in holiness of heart and life. Her builder and maker is God, for none but He has the power by His Spirit to truly redeem and sanctify the ungodly. This city is of infinite worth to Him: her gold does not tarnish and cannot lose its value, because it has been secured by covenant arrangement and paid for by the precious blood of Christ.
In this life we are to regard all those who profess the same Lord Jesus Christ as our brethren (1 Cor. 1:2) – but we expect them with us to depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19). Scripture demands that we judge ourselves before we do others, and that more rigorously. If we would follow biblical example we should value the fellowship of the saints (Acts 2:42): it is a sign of a natural man, not a spiritual, to separate oneself from every company of the redeemed (Jude 19). The difficulties and frustrations of church membership should not prejudice us against the idea altogether: never seek to be wiser than God!
The Lord in His great loving-kindness has not left us to travel the pilgrim way alone. Does He not provide us with dear soul-companions who encourage us when we are weary and strengthen our hand in God (1 Sam. 23:16)? Many of us have cause to grieve, that those who are closest to us in flesh and blood are furthest from us in soul and spirit, as in our Lord's earthly household (John 7:5). But wonder of wonders, He sets the solitary in families (Psa. 68:6)!
There is so much to be learned from the band of twelve, the disciples of Jesus Christ. All were outwardly His friends and He treated them as such. He held counsel and shared bread with them. Jesus knew the heart of Judas Iscariot, that he was no inward friend (John 13:10, 11), but nonetheless He chose him as an apostle and ministered the Lord's Supper to him; he was a member of the visible church: this to instruct us that the church must judge by a man's external character. Judas preached the gospel and performed miracles with the rest.
Our Lord seemed to have a special friendship with three of this circle, Peter, James and John, and more intimate again with John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He shares only with this trio the miracle of Jairus' daughter raised to life, the glory of His transfiguration, and the agony of Gethsemane. Of course He loves each one of His own equally and unreservedly, but His human spirit perhaps found a greater sympathy in these three than in the others.
The Bible instructs us that of all the Christian graces, three are pre-eminent and one especially so: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Cor. 13:13). Peter's history seems to us to highlight the grace of faith – both in its trial and triumph (Matt. 14:31; 16:15-18); James is noted for his strong hope (Mark 10:35-40); but John supremely breathes a holy love: he alone leans on Jesus' bosom at the first feast of charity (John 13:23). Charity is the greatest grace because it benefits our fellows, not simply ourself. Charity "seeketh not her own" (1 Cor. 13:5) but looks on "the things of others" (Phil. 2:4). She fosters in believers a concern for the best interests of each other's soul – for purity, peace and spiritual joy. Oh for more of this sweet grace among us!
Do we also find a greater affinity with some of the Lord's people than with others? Are there not choice believers whose fellowship we particularly delight in? These may not be exceptionally gifted or acclaimed by the church, but they share with us the same burdens, wrestle with the like sins, and mourn also over the low estate of Christ's cause. They have true and loyal hearts and we trust them. They understand our case and we are happy to confide in them, knowing that in turn they will confide only in the Lord, on our behalf. So we are helped heavenward: may God be blessed for such!
Job in his calamity was estranged from his relations, servants, wife and children. He found that at length even his very closest companions turned against him (Job 19:19). But as he cried for pity from the ash-heap, he was comforted in the knowledge of his living Redeemer: there is one Friend that sticketh closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). He shows God's secrets to those who fear Him. He who drew up the covenant of grace in eternity is pleased to reveal it in all its glorious fullness and richness by the Mediator to those for whom it is intended (Psa. 25:14).
The best of men are only men at best. When even our familiar friends turn against us, let us draw very close to this divine Companion, and share the secrets of our own hearts with Him alone. His still, small voice whispering blessings into our souls is worth a million times more than the smooth speeches of dissembling men. Which of us then will not gladly confess before the church and the world, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend" (Song 5:16)?