Revelation, Experience, Practice

It is my purpose to address my younger brethren and sisters in Christ in view of the rapidly rising apostasy in Christendom. I know that I shall be looked upon as a pessimist when I say that evil omens are crowding around us. Not long ago, in conversation with a Christian man whom I met on a railway journey, I quoted 2 Timothy 3:13, "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." He answered, "I know what you are," and he proceeded to describe certain brethren, who, he thought, stood in the way of their own usefulness because they expected no improvement in world conditions. Well I will quote from two men, whose warning words appeared in the same issue of a leading morning newspaper, to whom my friend's charge against such as myself could not possibly apply. The first quotation is from a speech by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, at a great political gathering.

"I little thought, as you could have little thought in those days before the War," said Mr. Baldwin, "that we should live to see ministers of the gospel — and I use that word in its widest sense — suffering for their belief, in countries that we believed to be civilised.

"I wish to say no more about that, but I do not want you to lose sight of certain anti-Christian movements in Europe at the present moment, but to resolve firmly, in this country at least, there shall not be one inch of ground that shall ever be ceded to those who fight a battle against whatever we may mean by religion."

The second is from the pen of the Bishop of Durham. He writes:

"We in England have hitherto enjoyed comparative immunity from the dangers and conflicts which have befallen our fellow-believers on the Continent. But many facts indicate that our insularity is passing away, that we can no longer stand outside the prevailing tides of thought and practice, and that we may have before long to pass under the same cloud as that which enwraps the Christians of Russia and Germany.

"If it should fall out with us also that the State became hostile to the Church, and invested British citizenship with an anti-Christian character, how should we who profess and call ourselves Christians behave? The materials for conflict are quite plainly accumulating as secularism dominates our public life. Certain it is that Christians can never give to the State an unconditioned obedience. There is "another King, one Jesus," whose claims must be first satisfied.

"If I mistake not, the 'Signs of the Times' suggest that the time draws near when we also shall be put to the test. As I reflect on the state of Christendom as a whole, and observe how the tendency to repudiate the Christian tradition seems to be gathering strength, and the agencies of religion steadily decline, I find it increasingly difficult to indulge the mood of complacent optimism which is reflected in our official and semi-official publications. I think the outlook in Church and State far graver than is generally realised."

Such utterances coming simultaneously from men eminent in their own circles are arresting and impressive, but I venture to say that the danger is more menacing than they indicate. The movements in Europe that they deplore are not only anti-Christian, they are anti-God, and most definitely pagan. Of course, whoever is against Christ is against God. "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same has not the Father (1 John 2:22-23), but hatred of God and His supremacy seems to be the driving force behind these movements. It is "the mystery of iniquity," no longer working out of sight to undermine in men's souls the fear of God, but coming into the open with the avowed determination of completely eliminating God from human life and affairs.

We may feel that things are not likely to develop so rapidly and in the same blatant way in this land as on the Continent, and we can hardly imagine the State persecuting Christians for their faith; moreover we know that there is a divine check upon the full development of the apostasy, for "He who now letteth [hindereth] will let [hinder], until He be taken out of the way" (2 Thess. 2:7). Yet the attack on the Faith is not less real if more subtle.

In a recent issue of a popular weekly Review a well-known writer said, "I suggest that the most ambiguous word in the English language is the word God. There is perhaps no word that means so many different things to different people as the word God. It stands for many differing concepts of what the word taken as a symbol, or for that matter, as a fact, means. No doubt in many cases in the interest of clearness it would be better if another word was used."

He proceeded to give some concepts and definitions of God put out by leading men in literary, scientific, philosophical and religious circles, and without controversy these are both ambiguous and strange. He is "a creative process," "the Life force," "The great design," "the all embracing personality," "the universal mind," "the First Cause," "the Final Principle," "the completed harmony," etc. etc. Now these masters of learning who express their views of God in these vague terms have a great following among those who wish to be thought intellectual, and their influence is great, for they are the men who are moulding the thoughts of the young men and women by their books and in schools and universities, and the whole force of their influence is to put God at a distance from men, not to deny Him altogether, perhaps, for that would not serve the devil's end in this land, but to rob them of Him, as a supreme Personality, who is interested in every one of us, and whom we may know and love and worship, and to whom every one of us shall give account (Rom. 14:12). Violent persecution would be preferable and far more healthy for Christians than that.

How shall we resist this influence, which is casting its blight over the Christian profession? and stand and contend for the truth upon which the eternal well-being of the souls of men depends? There can be only one answer to that question, we must have a deep and experimental know ledge of God as He has revealed Himself to men. As to this, I quote from another widely read author. He says, "The centre of gravity in religion has shifted in our day from authority to experience." I wish that by authority he had only the decrees of a false church in mind, but the spirit of the age is to refuse the only true authority, the infallible word of the living God, for if that can be got rid of men may give the rein to their own imaginings and speculations. But apart from the infallible Word of the living God there can be no true experience. We must have experience, but if our experience is to be true and satisfying and not one to be repented of, it must be an experience of the truth. There must be first, the Revelation of God to us if we are to have an experience of God. Apart from the revelation there could be no experience, apart from the experience we might be strictly orthodox yet dead; we might even be fiery Fundamentalists, yet without a pulse of life in our souls towards God. More is needed than an intellectual assent to the revelation, there must be the experience of the revelation, and I would add one other thing in order to describe the complete Christian, we must have a practice that is consistent with the revelation and the experience. Indeed it would be right to say that our practice is the measure of our experience of the revelation. Put these three things together then, the revelation, the experience and the practice. The man who has these three things, will answer well to John's young men. "Ye are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." Yet to such this word of warning is needed. "Let him that thinketh he stands take heed lest he fall," for we are not ignorant of Satan's devices.

Revelation

For the revelation I might quote such texts as John 3:16, but we are so familiar with these great sayings that sometimes they lose their force for us. Instead I ask you to consider three remarkable incidents. The Lord stood by the closed grave of Lazarus; it was a great occasion. He was about to manifest His glory as the Son of God by His mastery of death. But before He uttered the commanding word, He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 11).

In the following chapter the Lord had reached the great crisis in His life on earth, He who had shown that He was the Master of death stood face to face with that hour in which He was to submit to its power. It was an hour such as never had been nor would be again. No human words could express all that was involved in that hour for Him and His soul was troubled. Should He ask for deliverance from it? No, He had come from heaven for this very hour and His only prayer was, "Father, glorify Thy Name." And that prayer received an immediate answer from heaven. The Father Himself spoke, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." The multitudes that stood by heard the voice, and the majesty of it compelled them to say, "It thundered, or an angel spake to Him." But "Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of Me, but for your sakes" (John 12).

In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth how they should behave when they came together in assembly. It was by the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he did it; and in verses 23-25 we learn that the same Holy Spirit was not indifferent to the "unlearned and unbeliever" that might come into their gathering, and Paul urges upon them that they should speak the word plainly and in the Spirit's power. The result of this would be that if "there come in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest: and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth."

Here then it is recorded for us that the Son of God on earth spake to His Father in heaven for the sake of the people that stood by; and the Father in heaven spake to His Son on earth for the sake of the people that stood by; and the Holy Spirit would speak through His chosen vessels in the church, for the sake of the unbeliever and unlearned that stood by. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all speaking for the sake of the bystanders, that they might believe and worship. This surely reveals the heart of the Triune God and the interest that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have in men. And if we consider the occasions and the circumstances in which this revelation of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were given it becomes the more impressive. And how infinite appears the difference between God as thus revealed and the vague and ambiguous definitions of the scientists and philosophers that would rob us of God and His interest in us.

Consider further the people that stood by and for whose sake the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have spoken. The publicans and the sinners were there, for they always "drew near to the Lord Jesus to hear Him." Of what use would it have been to them to have talked to them of "the life force" or "the final principle"? But to tell them of God who knew "all things that ever they did," and yet could "frankly forgive" their "sins which were many," was to tell them good news and to open up the way to a life of righteousness, peace, and joy. And such God was, as revealed in Jesus, and for the sake of such as these, the Father spake to the Son and the Son to the Father. The children were there also, and does God care for the children? The disciples thought not, for when some brought young children to their Lord "they rebuked" them and would have driven them away. But —

"Jesus saw them e'er they fled.
And sweetly smiled and kindly said,
Suffer the children to come to Me."

He was "much displeased" with His disciples but "He took the children up in His arms, and put His hands upon them, and blessed them." What can save the children from the blight and horror of godlessness? Not vague talk of "the universal mind" or "the completed harmony," but the story of Jesus who welcomed the children to His arms; the divine record in the four Gospels of His life and death and resurrection, this will save them for it is the knowledge of God that children need, and in Christ God was manifested in flesh. And though the full glory of that manifestation cannot be compassed by even the highest created intelligence, the children understand it, for "Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to babes." Scribes and Pharisees were there standing by also, bold and presumptuous men, who hated the Lord and were determined to kill Him; yet the voice of the Father spake for their sakes also, for divine grace endured even these with much long-suffering and waited with patience even for them.

It was a motley multitude that gathered round the Lord, and we feel as we consider them, how suitable to their needs was the revelation of God in Christ, and the centuries that have passed since then have not changed the needs of men and we may thank God that the revelation abides, and that God is proclaimed in the gospel as "God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth."

Experience

If we are Christians we have experienced this revelation of God. Once we "stood by," we were out side the blessing and had not the knowledge of God, but grace drew us near, and enlightened our eyes, and what God is and His feelings toward us are no longer matters of debate or theory with us, but of soul experience. God has not made us dry-as-dust theologians, but His happy children through faith in Christ Jesus.

This revelation of God's grace and our experience of it is described in the threefold parable in Luke 15. We were the sheep that was lost, we were the lost silver, we were the rebellious prodigal. But the Shepherd-Son sought us until He found us, and the Holy Spirit sought us diligently until he brought us out of the darkness into the light, and when we were yet a great way off the Father saw us, and had compassion, and ran and fell on our neck and kissed us. It was so with me, and with everyone who has believed the gospel. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each had His part in the salvation of our souls. And let us note the joy in each case, it was not the joy of that which was lost and found, but the joy of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents." Father, Son and Holy Spirit rejoice, and no words in Holy Scripture convey with greater force the yearning of the heart of God for sinful men.

What an experience ours has been! If David described the blessedness of the man . . . whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered, we can describe the blessedness of the man who has been sought and found by the Shepherd, and placed in safety on His strong shoulder; and of the man whose soul has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit; and of the man who has been kissed by the Father's pardoning kiss, and welcomed to His heart and home. And this experience is not a memory of something that happened in the past only, but is a present and continuous experience, for "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given to us," and "the Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."

Practice

I need not say much as to the practice which is consistent with our experience of this revelation of God. It should be clear to all that, if the light of the knowledge of God has shone into our hearts it should shine out in the darkness for others. We are to be "blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom we shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2:15-16). We are to be "imitators of God as dear children," "kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you" (Eph. 5:1; 4:32). From us should sound forth the word of the Lord and our faith to Godward should be spread abroad (1 Thess. 1). For since we have received the revelation we are "the salt of the earth" and "light of the world" and should "let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:13, 15).

Conclusion

I am persuaded that if we hold fast to the revelation that shows us that God is not far distant from men, indifferent to their struggles and sorrows and sins, but that He draws near to them in grace and mercy and is "long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; and if we can say, we know that this is so, not only because His word declares it, but because we have proved that word to be true in our own experience, and if we can show to men that this knowledge of God is a treasure which we prize as dearer to us than life itself, but which we desire to share with them, and if we are the exponents of the blessing before their eyes we shall serve our day and generation by the will of God, the rising tide of apostasy will only move us to great zeal, and we shall be hastening the coming of the day of God.