The Perils Of Unreality
While at the Old Orchard Convention in August, I heard Dr. C.I. Scofield deliver the address just as it is printed in this booklet. It is too good not to be preserved. You will be delighted with this message from God’s beloved messenger. —Paul Rader
I want to guard this theme at one point at the outset. I do not mean conscious hypocrisy. I think there is very little conscious hypocrisy in the church of God. I think there is a tremendous amount of unreality. There is no place where Satan does his work as Deceiver more successfully than among the unconverted church members. I bring no charge against the professing body who claim and profess the name of Christ of being self-conscious hypocrites, of consciously believing a false hope. But I do know after some thirty years’ experience in gospel work all over the country in our churches there are a great many who are deceived.
The text I bring you is John 18:34. It is a question text. “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it of Me?”
If we thought as vaguely and indefinitely about the things of this life as we do about eternal things, a good many of us would find ourselves in the poorhouse. When it is something that concerns present interests pressing upon us, we arouse ourselves, awaken out of sleep, and get to the very point of the matter. But when it is something about the tremendous issues of life, and death, and eternity, we think vaguely and indifferently. Therefore I like the question texts of Scripture. They make us stand and deliver; they make us think definitely. The redemptive work of God in this world, when sin had entered in by the sin of one man, began with a question. God asked that man, “Where art thou?”
Jesus answered him (Pilate), “Sayest thou these things of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?” Pilate had asked Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” and our Lord turned on him with another question. Pilate, does this question come out of your heart? Are you asking this question? Does it come out of your own thinking? Do you want to know whether I am King of the Jews or not? And if I should satisfy you that I am, do you mean it enough to come down from that judgment seat and let Me go there? Why, it was a mere phrase that Pilate had picked up. He had heard some one say, “This is the King of the Jews.” He picked it up and cast it at Jesus. It never came out of any thinking of his own, or from any real exercise of his own mind on the subject. I want to press that question, the peril of unreality. “Sayest thou things of thyself?” or have you heard a certain phrasing of things, and are you passing it on without its ever having found you? Now let us think of this danger of unreality on certain definite points.
First of all, with reference to our personal salvation. Nothing is easier, dear friends, than to join a church under certain conditions. With a great many young people, especially those brought up in Christian homes and reared in Sunday school and under the wing of the church, it is the line of least resistance to follow the others into church membership. My heart was stirred here this afternoon by the testimony of a brother who testified that he had passed the deacon’s examination as to his being a Christian, and was about to be received into the church. On the very Sunday morning when he was to be received into full membership, God flashed into his soul that he had never had a transaction with Jesus Christ about his sins. He was going to join the great multitude of those who professed but did not possess. Fortunately for him, God arrested his steps and saved him in his own home; and when he went down and joined the church of Christ, became united with the body of believers in that church, he was a child of God. How easily he might have drifted into that profession without ever having received Jesus Christ.
I think it is some twenty years since I first came to Old Orchard. One of the things that got into my soul here at Old Orchard was that I had in the church, of which I was pastor for so many years in the Southwest, a great many who had joined by letter, and I had taken that letter business as being evidence of their being Christians. I was awakened to the peril of those who were in the profession of Christianity without the possession of Jesus Christ. Right here in Old Orchard I began to pray that God would save the unsaved church members in my church. I kept on praying and I got a few others to pray, and I went back home and began to preach right along those lines. We had a wonderful winter. I remember the first sign of the blessing. A young man who had united by letter from a church elsewhere, afterwards a minister of the gospel, got up in prayer meeting and said nothing. We looked at him. He was usually very ready to speak and an extremely good speaker, and we were always rather glad when he spoke. This time he was not saying anything. We saw he was overcome with emotion. God gave us grace just to look away and keep very quiet, and presently with broken voice he said, “I have been an unconscious fraud in this church as I was in the church from which I came and united in this church by letter. But I want to say to you this afternoon in my office down town I became a Christian. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ, and the verse that awakened me and has been pressing upon me was, ‘To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’ God knew that while I had a reverence for His name, traditionally, because I was brought up that way, I had never had a transaction with Him about myself. And now I have had it.” Being a Welshman he began to sin, and we all sang. Then one and another, some of my best members, got up and said, “Pray for me, pray for me. I don’t believe I ever received Him. I don’t think I ever did. I united with the church when I was ten years old and the whole class went in.” That is glorious if the whole class was converted, but terrible if they were not converted. It is awful!
Do you know from the Scripture in the expressions from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ the danger of those who profess but do not possess? There is a word for us preachers. “Many of you shall say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name and in Thy name done many wondrous works.” Now let me tell you something. God will bless His Word. And when the man, who has been the means of leading hundreds and perhaps thousands to Christ, goes where he has belonged all the time, and becomes a Unitarian minister; and you cannot understand how it is that anybody was ever saved when he did not have the gospel in his own heart, the answer is that he preached the Word anyhow, and God blessed it. “Lord, Lord.” Don’t you see it is a surprise. There are going to be some awfully surprised preachers when the separation day comes. Lord, Lord, You are making an awful mistake here. I am a preacher. Don’t you remember, Lord? Just think back a little. “Then will I profess unto you that I never knew you.” Not I knew you once, and then you became apostate, but I NEVER KNEW YOU. The awful point is this, that these men are going to be genuinely surprised. “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied?” The man who says that in the very presence of judgment has not been all the years consciously a hypocrite. He is moral. He is an ordained minister. What more do you want? “Lord, Lord, we prophesied.”
Picture another judgment scene when those on the left hand are going to say, “When saw we Thee sick?” They are surprised. “Lord, when saw we Thee in prison, and did not visit Thee?” When? I don’t remember any such incident, they will say in the very presence of an irrevocable judgment, to find that with church membership and profession they have had no possession of Christ.
My dear brother and sister, in the sight and presence of God, have you ever had a transaction with Jesus Christ about your sins? Can you say,
“My soul looks back to see
The burden Thou didst bear,
While hanging on th’ accursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.”
Do you believe it?
There is a great deal of peril in the unreality of our statements. Let me call it by an unpopular word, our creed. I do not say the creed itself is an unreal statement. I believe most of the creeds contain many statements of truth. But it is entirely possible to give an intellectual assent to a creed that never has found a place in the heart or conscience. This is a creedless age, and people are rather proud of it. They say, We don’t believe in creeds any more; we believe in a life. Now your life is never going to be any better than your creed. I read a statement the other day that sent me to my books, and I spent the best part of a day in my study verifying that statement. The statement was this: “All Christian saints have based their experiences on divine belief.” I found it wonderfully true. “We believe, therefore have we spoken.” A man’s creed, whether it is long or short, whether it is theological in its phraseology, or whether it is just plain United States is the statement that he makes to himself of what he really believes. He may have a paper creed a mile long, but that is not his creed unless it is worked into his conviction. I cannot tell you with what consternation some two years after my conversion, and when I was beginning to hold meetings around a little, I realized the fact one night that I had no creed of my own at all. I knew the Apostle’s creed. I had been brought up in that church. But I said to myself when the Spirit of God pressed it upon me, What do you believe; and I found I was taking my beliefs at second-hand. I began right then and there that night to believe a creed that I humbly hoped, if need were, I would die for. I began with Jesus for He had saved me from something unto something. Something happened when I believed on Him. A vile appetite was taken from me and has never for a moment returned. He saved me. I began there. It is a great thing to keep your creed of life, because every time you read in your Bible, if you read with a believing heart, you add to your creed.
But what is your creed? What do you believe? May I just ask a very definite question? Suppose for instance we take the first clause of that creed of which I have just spoken, that venerable symbol coming down to us, as I believe, from the very early church. The first statement is, “I believe in God.” Friend, do you? Observe, it does not say, I believe there is a God. That is quite another matter. Some of the most godless men I know profess a belief in the existence of God. But “I believe in God.” Do you? Do you? There are two instances in Scripture that are full of instruction just on this point. One of them presents a picture of an old man nigh a hundred years old, and the husband of an old wife, both of them with the hope of posterity as good as dead. God said to this old man one day that he himself would become the father of the seed of the Abrahamic covenant. It was against nature, but God had said it, and Abraham believed God; and it came to pass. Take that other picture of that little despised Jew on his way as a prisoner up to Rome to appear before Caesar on the deck of a doomed ship. He was not a mariner. He knew nothing about managing ships. He was a Jew, and he was a prisoner. The captain gave it up; the crew gave it up. They sat down supinely to wait for the final shock and then for the engulfing in the death-giving waters. This little Jew stood forth and said, “Be of good cheer, for I believe God.” God had promised him that not a man of them should perish. “I believe God.” Do you believe in God? What do you believe He can do for you? How much are you using Him in your business, in your daily life? Oh, dear friends, it is so easy to have a profession of the lips. Even we who are really Christians are in great danger of falling into all kinds of unrealities. “I believe in God.” Any man who can say that in any biblical sense of the word has said a great thing.
I wonder if I could put together a real creed. I know your church has a creed, I, myself, am a Presbyterian, and it takes a good strong head to really go into the depths of our confession of faith and our catechism. But as far as I know I go with the substance of that. We may have a church creed to which we may assent as far as we understand it. We may do that. But what underneath that formidable statement in its medieval phraseology is the real creed we are living? Does it not run something like this: I believe in the Presbyterian church; I believe in being good; I believe in going to church; I believe in keeping the Sabbath. Now, those are all good things. Is that all there is to it? Do you believe in the Holy Ghost? Do you believe in the forgiveness of sin? Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? Do you believe in the life everlasting? Has it got hold of you? Are you living it now? That is the test of a belief. There is not a doctrine of Scripture that is not connected directly with the experience of life. There is not an abstract truth in the Bible, something that is like the proposition that two and two make four. That is true, but I do not know that it affects my life very much unless I have to figure up my bills. But, oh, the truths of revelation are vital truths! They grip the conscience and heart, and if we really believe our beliefs there is an issue in life. We translate our real creed into deeds.
Another point at which unreality enters more easily than at any other point is in our worship as we call it. What is worship? It is the adoration of God in the depths of the soul and it brings to life an expression because God has done something for us. “Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness!” You remember when Paul in Timothy is speaking of his salvation and the marvel of it, he bursts forth into that marvelous doxology, “Now unto the king immortal, eternal, invisible, the only wise God.” We say, Divine worship is being performed at such an hour and at such a place. “Jesus said, the hour cometh when neither at this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem shall men worship the Father.” Worship is the adoration of God as a parent by a grateful child. We express it in song, and there can be no more fitting and proper expression of worship than through song if we mean it. I have seen a whole congregation larger than this singing Dr Gordon’s hymn, “If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.”
I have seen them singing it, looking around at every noise to see who that was that came in; singing it mechanically and with as little conviction of the heart as if it were a street song. Now hear me, we are so constituted that we cannot deal in unrealities like that without hardening and deadening the soul. If you cannot sing what you mean with your heart, do not sing. The hymns, the great hymns that have survived, our hymns that express the deepest emotions of the redeemed heart have come out of an experience that was rich and full. They have been put into melodious words; they have been set to melodious tunes, and they have come to us; many of them, through the use of them for centuries by worshipping saints who meant what they were singing; and we use them to fill up the time. God help us! God help us! While the friends are gathering we will sing No. 196, and we chose it because it had many verses, and by the time we are through singing it, the friends will have probably all gathered. Oh, people of Christ, we cannot do those things without a soul-deadness. My friends, in the deeper meaning of it, we are trying to lie to God. How can He bless us while we are dealing in unrealities? Do I mean that we shall not sing? Oh no. I mean that we shall sing as we do other things that take God into account; that we shall sing what we mean. I remember a last verse of a very familiar hymn,
“Oh, let my tongue be silent, cold, and still
If I forget the mercy seat.”
I used to sing that as glibly as you please. I never dare to give it out now. We do forget the mercy seat; and if God took us at our word, our tongues would be silent, cold, and still. We carry troubles for a month, and then carry them to the mercy seat. I cannot sing imprecations on myself. I am a poor creature needing the mercy of God.
Close to worship is prayer. If you think it is no snare to be constantly leading the people of God in prayer, you do not know the experience. I am sometimes humbled to the very dust before my God when I contrast the unctuousness, and fullness, and, perhaps I might say, eloquence of my miserable mouthings in public with my petitions in the closet. We are apt to pray as we are expected to pray in public.
How much unreality creeps into the public testimony. How we take the word and phrase from each other! I was pastor for some years at Northfield, Massachusetts. And what took me there was that I had a thousand boys and girls to preach to. It was an inspiring and beautiful audience. We have at Northfield a great summer conference, and the cream of all the gifted preachers in the English-speaking world go there. There is an immense amount of very high doctrine and truth preached there during the summer. A great many of the boys and girls remain there and attend these conferences. There was such a contrast between the testimonies in the students’ meetings in the spring and early in the fall. You might think we had a group of almost glorified saints. They had caught during the summer conferences these high phrases expressive of the ecstasies of the Christian life. Do you know what cant is? Cant is talking high truth that you have never experienced. It usually took a month or two to get these boys and girls to talk out of their own hearts and lives, and then try to lead them to the realities of those great things. Nothing is easier than to pick up phrases and expressions.
I remember once in the South I had been preaching to some of the colored people. There had been some conversions, and a number of candidates for baptism were to be examined. The first one to be examined was asked by my colored brother, the pastor, to state his experience. He got up and said, “Well, I was seeking power for a long while, Mr. Pastor, and I could not find a lot, and then something white bust before me and I saw a great white light.” Every one of the eighteen or twenty said the same thing after him.
On my place in New Hampshire I have a rock called the sheep rock, so called for this reason: We used to keep there a little flock of sheep. Now and then, it might be the breaking of a twig would frighten this little bunch of sheep which were upon a high hill. This rock is two hundred feet below. Usually when they became scared, they would start down that slope as fast as they could run. One of them would run up on that rock and jump off. Every one of the rest would do the same. I began to think that perhaps the Bible knew what it was about when it calls us sheep. Now the rearmost sheep never had it in its mind to jump off that rock until he saw some other sheep do it, and then he would just run up and jump off it too. One of the final reproaches God had for His ancient people was that His prophets took the word from each other and not from His lips. And in testimony, dear friends, if we expect to be blessed of God, there must be the ring of sincerity and reality. Oh, we hear sometimes such pretty things in meeting. Then some one gets up, who cannot talk pretty at all, but who has had a transaction with God and just tells it; and we are all melted down, and very likely somebody gets saved. My friends, an old Puritan saint said, “The Lord Jesus did not play in saving me, and I will not play in serving Him.” Oh, if you have not an experience that you can tell, that has not the touch of God’s hand on it, sit still, and do not try to pass on some one else’s bright light. Have a living testimony of your own; and if you have not got it, go to God and get it.
The test of all these things need not discourage any true believer. I hope I have not had that effect. But if there is one here, who is in the profession of Christ without ever having definitely received the Lord Jesus as a Saviour, I pray that the conviction may come to you, my brother, my sister, and that even now where you sit, and as you are, you may lift up your heart and say, Lord Jesus, I do receive, I begin now as I never did before, and may God’s blessing be with us all.