The Rising Tide Of Unbelief
“We should therefore pay the more careful attention to what we have heard, so we may nowise drift by on a tide of unbelief.” —Hebrews 2:1 (Berkeley translation)
Visibility for many Christians has been reduced to a sad minimum. The lack of scriptural knowledge has beclouded vital issues, weakened convictions and lessened productive activity. There is a definite deflection through disinclination. Haziness about the will of God and laziness in the work of God result from an indifference toward the Word of God. No one is so blind as the one who does not want to see.
The greatest peril to be faced is internal deterioration. Paul made frequent appeals for inward strength, both as regards the individual and the Church. He spoke about practicing godly self-control lest, while he urged upon others the principles of holy conduct, he himself might be disqualified. He never feared the external foe. Someone has remarked that when his enemies threw him into prison, he came out the other end with a convert under one arm and the jail gate under the other. But his great concern was ever about himself. He knew well that the enemy is busily engaged in the strategy of breaking down internal resistance. Israel furnishes a graphic example.
Concerning the national situation of God’s ancient people, the diagnosis was sad indeed: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying [sic] sores.” How attractive to malignancy would such a physical condition be. Even so, the spiritual situation, of which this is descriptive, bespoke a vulnerability which made the favoured people of God a ready prey to treacherous enemies which were then plotting their destruction.
Elijah had seen the portents of disaster looking ominously on the horizon. He prayed his heart out in solemn supplication and intercession: “Hear me, O God,” he pleaded, “hear me that this people may know that thou art the Lord God.” “THAT THIS PEOPEL MAY KNOW…” Do you get it? They did not know, not that they could not have known, but because they became willing victims of the fog of inexcusable ignorance.
The Church Limps
As the tree bends, so it falls. Paul viewed with uncomfortable alarm the tendency toward unbelief in his day. With frequent and evident forcefulness, he stated, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren.” He did not want them to be unaware of spiritual gifts, especially of the enabling of the Holy Spirit so necessary to the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord. He did not want them to be bent under sorrow because of the decease of loved ones in Christ. He did not want them to be at a loss to understand Israel’s blindness when she was the repository for the oracles of God. Peter also showed a similar concern. He did not want the believer to be ignorant of God’s unchangeable faithfulness because the fulfillment of His promises was apparently delayed. He explained that the time element did not, in any wise, enter into the matter.
What is the picture now, some nineteen centuries later? The enemy of Truth has worked relentlessly down through the stream of time. Today there is a nebulous cast to the spiritual atmosphere. The wheat is making a life-or-death struggle for subsistence among the tares. The dynamic of the Church of Christ is but faintly evident; the offensive launched against the citadel of Satan by a valiant vanguard has all but lost its impact; and the army of Christian soldiers has literally bogged down. Many a post is poorly manned because essentials are lacking. In a circular for the Northfield conference, Mr. Moody once referred to the fact that the Church limps and lags because “teachers are without knowledge, witnesses are without testimonies, workers are without power, and disciples follow afar off.”
Loyalty does not seek an easy course. It does not shrink morbidly from hardship nor worry uselessly about danger. Loyalty is intent upon following, without deviation or vacillation, the path of devotion. Should that path lead through hardship of deprivation, through ordeals of persecution, or into the cold, cruel embrace of death, loyalty asks no greater honor than that of being true to Christ and His cause. Nor does it lack encouragement. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
What heart reaction do we experience toward those patient and persistent sufferers who reddened the soil with their blood and made possible the heritage which we enjoy? Loyalty does not always take the same course, but it leads to the same end. Whether in the first or the twentieth century, it has the same texture, shows the same dauntlessness, and is willing both to suffer and die, if called upon, in order to uphold the banner of the cross. But loyalty must face a variety of tests. Satan’s desire is not so much to crush a life as it is to curb the Light. If this can be accomplished through deception more effectively than through destruction, he is quick to shift his emphasis.
Blatant unbelief is not always passive. It becomes bitterly assertive, hurling stinging, stirring taunts at those who would be true. But “thou son of man, be not afraid of them,” counsels the tender, loving Lord; “neither be afraid of their words, though briars and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions.” John the Baptist was a “winebibber”; Paul, the apostle was “beside himself—mad”; Jesus was a “perverter of the nation.” Such were the invectives which issued from corrupt hearts.
A skeptic is the type of unbeliever who aggressively opposes the Scriptures. He is not contented in his darkness, but constantly seeks to extinguish the light of Truth for others. His cynical attitude leads him to become vitriolic. He is not concerned about the faith and feeling of others. Those who placed the crown of thorns on the brow of our Lord administered pain without compunction, and their kind today is no more tender in piercing and pricking His followers with daring and delight. Caustic and cutting are their vehement outbursts as they seek to batter the bulwarks of our faith. The encouragement they receive in their ignoble efforts is surprisingly great. This was evidenced by the taunts in the military forces when a true soldier of Christ stood firm under satanic fire. It is often demonstrated in the classroom when a godless professor seeks to embarrass a student who dares to voice his implicit faith in the Bible. There is delight in trying to confound him as argumentative students join the instructor in a common display of contempt for the counsels of the Most High.
One of the most subtle and most destructive stratagems militating against all that we count sacred is the increasing practice of inculcating doubts regarding divine authority, of questioning the integrity of the Holy Scriptures. We are rich in privilege, happy in pursuit and hopeful in prospect. All this, and more, is our fortunate estate while many other peoples are presently disintegrating, down-trodden by foes, disturbed by internal strife and destitute of the bare necessities of life. A people that forgets God goes backward, and questioning the authenticity and the absolute infallibility of the Bible constitutes a most serious threat to our national economy and a grievous offense to the personal faith of our people.
Yes, skeptical antipathy has cut a swath through the human race, felling in windrows weak and unprotected victims, there to leave them unassisted in the restlessness of their empty lives and comfortless in their outlook of hopefulness.
Many ministers in our day, who are known to be unorthodox in their doctrines, maintain their prestige among weak, but truly born again people, because of their employment of scriptural terms, which, if they were asked to define, would prove their views to be utter distortions of divine truth. The late Dr. I.M. Halderman cited an illustration of a well-known religious leader who was commended for his reference to the vicarious work of Christ on the cross. Later, this same leader placed the vicarious sufferings of Christ in the same category with the hardships of David Livingstone, Father Damiens and Florence Nightingale.
Perhaps nowhere may one find words so much on dress parade as in the message at a funeral service. How meaningless are so many statements as broken and bleeding hearts receive them, hoping thereby to be comforted in their bereavement. “His labours are now over and he is at rest,” the minister will comment, even though the deceased was known to have utterly rejected Christ as Saviour. The Lord says, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest.” “Your loved one is at peace,” perhaps the ministry will say. This could only be true of one who has received the Prince of Peace by faith. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” are also words that have been solemnly intoned countless times by those who disbelieve and discountenance the second coming of Christ. The general resurrection theory is widely promulgated because it is read from rituals without investigation or examination. By the term “new birth” is often meant nothing more than a new vision or revival of some kind of devotion.
But what about the many careless, unthoughtful testimonies which are given in prayer meetings or young people’s gatherings? What about the solemn and significant words of hymns which fall from people’s lips whose hearts do not support the statements uttered? Words misplaced or deceptively used are decidedly harmful in their confusing effect. One must admit it, if ever so hesitantly, that we are living in a day when the true meaning of Divine Revelation is hid behind the clever camouflage of words.
Liberalism actually advertises the fact that its approach to the Scriptures is academic. The inference is clear. A man who requested a transfer from one church to another which was more orthodox in its message received an accompanying letter from the pastor which stated in part, “Join that church if that is what you want, but remember, God doesn’t put a premium on ignorance. When he wanted competent leadership, he chose a wise, educated man like Paul. Our approach to the Bible is one of education, training and wisdom.” The writer has this letter in his file.
But What Is Wisdom?
But what is wisdom? Is it that degree of human development which makes it possible for man to belittle God? No, that is a superficial inflation of the ego. Is it that extent of human progress through investigation and acquirement that gives a man a foundation for his contention that the Bible is antiquated and insufficient? No, that is deception of the first water. Wisdom is a weighty word. It falls into a lofty bracket. It has many meanings in Scripture; i.e., prudence, discretion, quickness of invention, dexterity of execution, craft, cunning, true piety, fear of God, personification of Christ, natural instinct and sagacity. Divine wisdom and human wisdom are distinguished one from the other. Divine wisdom is from above. To make the contrast more pronounced, Paul declared that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom; and, with all thy getting, get understanding.” Thus, the attainment of wisdom requires the acquisition of understanding in order to utilize and enjoy it. Wisdom without understanding is like a fortune without a knowledge of it. “Get understanding.” This is supreme encouragement in sublime endeavours. The main reason why there is not a greater display of heavenly wisdom is due to the subtle instruction of man. Fear toward God is based upon the faulty opinion of men. Nowhere else in the spiritual curriculum does substitution become more subversive. It fosters insincerity, produces incapability, and leaves prevailing instability amid the ranks of professing Christians. “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me.”
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This statement deserves more than casual reading or careless recitation. We would do well to inquire into the meaning and derivation of the “fear of the Lord.” It is commonly stated to be reverential trust with a hatred for evil, but this is not a thorough definition. It merely puts the phrase into its proper category. The fear of the Lord is said to be clean, enduring, inspiring, life-giving, satisfying, informative, enriching. If wisdom, true wisdom, is the embodiment of such ennobling principles, then surely it is “the principal thing.” And nothing so swells the tide of unbelief as the multiplication of those who are wise, not in Christ, but in their own conceits.