Spiritual Slothfulness.

H. H. Snell.

Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 174.

Knowledge is not faith, and principles are not power. It is a mistake to think the one or the other, however much the Holy Spirit may use the knowledge of the word and principles of truth for our guidance and blessing. The Laodicean element, alas! so rife on every hand, is what we have most to dread, and most resolutely to overcome; and what is Laodiceanism but men priding themselves on holding orthodox principles with practical indifference to the honour and claims of our Lord Jesus Christ? Many of God's children are suffering in their souls from lack of spiritual acquaintance with God's mind as revealed in the Scriptures of eternal truth; but this is not the root of the palsied state of a large number of those who profess to be God's saints. God be praised for those who know, on the infallible authority of His word, brought home to their hearts by His Spirit, that they "are sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus," and abound with praise and thanksgiving because of it.

When reading carefully the epistles, we are struck with the fact that the first thing which attracted the eye of an inspired apostle, when considering the state of the saints in any place, was not the amount of knowledge they possessed, but what their condition was as to "faith," and "love," and "hope;" and, after thus considering their state, he then sought to correct and instruct them as to principles and knowledge of the truth. Look, for instance, at the first epistle to the Thessalonians. He says, "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. And in the second epistle to the same assembly he wrote first of all, "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity [love] of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." (1 Thess. 1:2-3; 2 Thess. 1:3.) Then in each epistle instruction as to the knowledge of God's truth followed. In Ephesians he says, "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you," and then prays that the Father of glory may give unto them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him … that they might know what is the hope of His calling, etc. (Eph. 1:15-23.) What a serious mistake then such make who place "knowledge" on the foremost ground instead of faith, and love, and hope!

Again, if we turn to the epistle to the saints at Colosse, the same inspired apostle says, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven," etc. He then prays they "may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;" he has also great conflict, or agony, lest they should come short of the apprehension of the mystery of God, and he sets before them great principles of truth as to their being in Christ Jesus, with the view of delivering them from the philosophy and traditions which threatened to undermine their faith. He clearly showed them that, as being in Christ Jesus, filled full in Him, and holding fast Christ the Head of the body, they would be delivered from rationalism on the one hand and from ritualism on the other, and walk worthy of the Lord.

Our present object, however, is not to trace this further in the apostolic writings, important as it is, but to enquire whether the Laodicean state, so nauseous to our Lord, is not being rapidly brought about by spiritual slothfulness; and whether it does not call for great searchings of heart, as to how far any of us may be helping on this closing phase of the apostate church. For it is clear, that, in the apostolic epistles, we are enjoined to be "diligent," and warned against being "slothful." We are taught to give "all diligence" to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly love, and love; and in this way we should be neither idle, nor unfruitful, as regards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But where this diligence is lacking, such are blind, short-sighted, and have forgotten they were purged from their old sins. We are also exhorted to be not "slothful," but to shew the same "diligence" to the full assurance of hope unto the end; as if the enjoyment of our "hope" were connected with diligence in the service and ways of the Lord. (2 Peter 1:5-11; Heb. 6:11, 12.) Happy those who are diligently exercised before the Lord, as to their growth in faith, and love, and hope. (Rom. 15:13.)

Perhaps one of the earliest outward marks of inward decline in a Christian is the readiness to excuse oneself from devotedness and diligence in the Lord's service. Difficulties are spoken of not heard of before, and dangers too are feared; so that the manifest neglect is both accounted for and excused, when such "will not plow by reason of the cold," and say, "There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets." (Prov. 26:13; Prov. 20:4.) The human mind can easily imagine or invent obstacles to unselfish and God-honouring service, and when this is yielded to, instead of abiding in the truth at all costs, a place of ease is readily found. When we lose the authority of the Word on our conscience, that "it is given unto us, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake," we can easily think of our present temporal advantage and personal ease in this passing scene, glide away from wisdom's ways of pleasantness and peace, and become weak and helpless as to divine things. "The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth." (Prov. 26:15.) Such have not only left their first love, but turn away from those who stand for God's truth at all costs. A drowsy state has taken hold on them, so that their spiritual movements are little more than mechanical, "as the door turneth upon his hinges," and such become as indolent in caring for their souls' welfare, as a slumbering man who grieves at the trouble of bringing again his hand to his mouth. (Prov. 19:24.) He so slumbers that, while knowing all that is going on around him, he has no power to bestir himself. Yet, strange to say, with all this declension and indifference to the honour of the Lord, "the sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason." (Prov. 26:16.) What an appalling state! Such can only pride themselves on their desires, while their souls are dry and drowsy, so that the scripture is fulfilled that "the soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing;" and again, "The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour." (Prov. 13:4; Prov. 21:25.)

Another mark of a slothful man is that he roasteth not that which he took in hunting. (Prov. 12:27.) He may associate with God's saints, hear the Word ministered with freshness and power, and may be even struck with its blessedness and suitability to himself; but when he retires, he is so absorbed with earthly things that he takes no further interest in it. Like the huntsman's prize, it is of no real benefit to him, because he is too indolent to occupy himself with it by meditating on the truth for his present profit. How strikingly this describes the state of many in this day. To read or to hear the Word is one thing, but to "meditate on it day and night" for our soul's profit is another thing. A clean animal, under the law, not only gathered up food, but it chewed the cud - so that it was not only received but digested for renewal of strength and personal profit, and connected too with a walk suited to it. (Lev. 11:3.)

We are also told that "the way of a slothful man is as an hedge of thorns." A spiritual and earnest Christian finds something almost impenetrable in the endeavour to approach such. Greatly as those who care for their souls desire it, they find communion, in the things of the Lord to be out of the question, and conclude that God only can break through the "hedge of thorns." (Prov. 15:19; Prov. 12:24.) How truly, too, it is said, that "he also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster." We are familiar with it in earthly matters; but is it less true as to the things of the Lord, and our daily walk and testimony? Opportunities of honouring the Lord are missed, and never return, and the means entrusted to our stewardship are wrongly used; time is misspent, and health and strength wasted in the routine or amusements of this present evil age. "What is the harm of this or that?" saith the slothful man, little thinking that one who is practically alive unto God, and seeking His glory, would never ask such a question.

The truth is that, when we fail to enjoy the love of God to us in Christ, when Christ Himself is no longer the Object and Hope of our hearts, when meditation on the word of God becomes irksome, and closet prayer declines, when private praise and making melody in the heart to the Lord ceases, and we no longer overflow with love to our Saviour God, to His ways, His people, and His service, we begin to be slothful Christians; and, oh, how serious is this state! for "slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger." (Prov. 19:15.) Let it be noted that it is a deep sleep; alas! so deep, that ordinary means utterly fail to awake them. How humbling and depressing is this divinely-drawn picture of sleep, and yet how true! Can anything account for what we see around us associated with the name of the Lord but slothfulness touching the things of God? And if so, how solemn and searching is the warning, admonishing us to watch and pray lest we enter into temptation. The thought of some is, "I know I am saved," "I know I have eternal life," and the like; but do we consider, as we ought, that if the Spirit of God is grieved or quenched by our life and walk, we may lose the comfort and enjoyment of such precious truths, and even forget that we were purged from our old sins?

The scriptures we have been looking at have mostly an individual application, so that it may be asked, What about the assembly, looking at it as God's corporate witness on earth during our Lord's absence? We need not say to many how terribly it has failed as such; so that instead of its being, as at first, the expression of the Spirit's unity, and of the unselfish love of Christ, "the Head" of the one body, division and false doctrine abound on every hand. Still the obligation of even two or three to be faithful as gathered to the Lord's name is as true as ever, and such are greatly encouraged by the Scriptures of truth. (2 Tim. 2:20-22.) As, therefore, God's assembly is made up of individuals, it is impossible to be right with God in a corporate sense unless we are so individually. An assembly gathered to the Lord's name will always manifest the moral qualities of those who comprise it individually. Here again Scripture reminds us that "by much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through." (Ecc. 10:18.) Nothing is clearer than that, where there is earnestness in our Lord's service, and faithful walk by those who look for His coming, there is generally found comfort and blessing collectively. But where knowledge of Scripture is the first thing, with lack of earnest and united prayer, little spiritual care for Christ's members manifested, the Lord's coming as our only future dropped, there you will find, not only the absence of the increase of God, but where the life, and power, and union, once known, "decayeth," and the assembly discomfort is like a house which "droppeth through."

Again, we are admonished as to this by the wise man. He says, "I went by the field of the slothful … and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down." Here we see "thorns," the emblem of God's displeasure, instead of the "trees of His own planting;" "nettles" instead of fruitful branches; and "the stone wall" of separation, once so decided and solid, now "broken down," so that evil associations are easily found within, and evil intruders not excluded. All this is traced to spiritual indolence. "Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man." (Prov. 24:30-34.)

But we may well look up and encourage our hearts in God, while we commend one another "to God, and to the word of His grace." His Fatherly love has not abated. The Lord is still with us, and all His resources are open to faith. So that we may exhort one another to be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15: 58.) H. H. S.