—MATT. 7:21-29.—FEBRUARY 28.—
Golden Text:—"Be ye doers of the Word,
and not hearers only."—James 1:22 .
FOLLOWING our Lord's course, we reach in this lesson a more particular stage in his work. After the example of Peter, Andrew, James and John, others became disciples or followers of the Lord, until we may presume that his company was of considerable numbers. It was about this time that, after prayer in solitude in the mountain, our Lord made choice of the twelve who should be his special representatives or apostles; and whether it [R3317 : page 44] was before or after this selection from amongst the other disciples or followers that he gave the Sermon on the Mount, we may not be too positive, but evidently the two events occurred about the same time.
Our lesson is really a portion of the Sermon on the Mount—a conclusion to it. Supplementing Matthew's statement with that of Luke 6:43-49, we find that our Lord gave several illustrations of true discipleship at this time: (1) The straight gate and narrow way by which any might become his disciples; (2) the fruit-bearing test of being his disciples; (3) the difference between words and deeds in the Lord's estimation; (4) the vital results as illustrated by the two buildings, the one on the sand and the other on the rock.
In our day, when the public teachings of the ministry of nearly all denominations is so different from the teaching of the Scriptures, we believe that the degeneracy of faith and practice would be much more rapid than it is were it not that very many feel it a duty to read a portion of the Scriptures daily, even though they think little about their meaning. In such readings lessons like the one we are now considering occasionally present themselves; and the lines of true discipleship are here so distinctly drawn, that the mere nominal professor is made to shudder while the true Christian is profited in proportion as he determines by the grace of God he will seek to so conform his life that he may become more and more a copy of God's dear Son.
The general thought of today in the pulpits and in private conversation and at funerals seems to be that in civilized lands everybody is a Christian and sure to go to heaven eventually, except such persons as are moral reprobates—such as are to be found in penitentiaries and prisons—and even for them hope is entertained that ere they die they may express some regret for their misdeeds. Such regrets are seized upon by their friends as evidence that they have become Christians, and gone to heaven too.
While condemning the foregoing as wholly wrong, we nevertheless sympathize with those whose confusion of thought is thus manifested. Their unscriptural views of what constitutes a Christian is the result of two things: (1) Teachings of the dark ages handed down through the creeds of Christendom from the "mother of harlots" to her "daughters"—creeds inspired by the teachings of those who, in centuries gone by, persecuted one another to the death for differences of opinions on doctrinal subjects—tortured one another with rack and sword and fagot. (2) To this bad foundation of error there has come within recent years a larger spirit of enlightenment and generosity in which we rejoice. But the two qualities—the errors of the past and the generosity of the present—produce a very bad combination of doctrine for modern Churchianity—a doctrine which seeks to be reasonable with itself, and which, in so doing, runs counter to a great many teachings of Scripture. The present lesson is an illustration of this.
From the standpoint of orthodox Churchianity and its teaching of eternal torture for all except those who become Christian, our Lord's words in this lesson seem very unreasonable, very unsatisfactory, very heart-rending. From their standpoint a strict application of this lesson would mean not only that the heathen world is without hope in the future, but also the civilized world and the vast majority of those called Christians have nothing to expect in the future except tribulation—eternal torment, because rejected of the Lord and not recognized as Christians, not recognized as members of his Kingdom, his Body, of his Church.
It is only when we get rid of the smoke and darkness and confusion of Babylon and the dark ages and their creeds, and get back to the pure, unadulterated words of the Lord and apostles and prophets, and by the grace of God are granted some opening of the eyes of our understanding, only then can we see these matters in their true light. Our Lord's discourses continually reiterated that he was seeking for some who should be counted worthy to constitute his Kingdom, to sit with him in his throne, to be his joint-heirs, to rule and to judge Israel and all the nations of the world. Not until we learn to differentiate between the Church, his Bride, the members of his Body, the Kingdom class, and the world that is to be judged or ruled by this Kingdom class in due time, can we get a clear conception of the divine purposes progressing throughout this Gospel age.
From this standpoint we can see most clearly why none can be of the Kingdom class unless they shall develop faith and character above and beyond that of the world in general. We can see why these should be called upon to bear the good fruits; we can see why they must walk the narrow way of self-denial, self-sacrifice and character development in order to be fitted and prepared for the great work the Lord has for them to do for the world in the coming age—in the Millennium. It seems to be peculiarly difficult for the majority of people long blinded by false doctrines to see that the heavenly Father has
The world is getting a certain kind of experiences in the present time which will be valuable to it in the future—when God's due time shall come for blessing all the families of the earth to be on trial for life or death everlasting. Meantime, with those present experiences come the disciplines of the laws of nature—under which poverty, sickness and mental and moral derangements follow excesses of evil doing as pain follows contact with fire. And it is not an unreasonable hope that with the lessons of the present time before them, the world during the Millennial age will act more wisely than at present; that under [R3317 : page 45] the favorable conditions prevailing then many will not only rejoice in the great plan of salvation, but will avail themselves of it—many who are now careless in such matters, partly because they cannot see or walk by faith.
It is when we realize that the present time is one for schooling, discipline, chastening, proving the characters of those who hear and accept the divine invitation, that we see the reasonableness of all the restrictions and requirements attaching to such special discipleship. No longer do we wonder that our dear Redeemer said, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it"; no longer do we wonder that it is recorded that he spake in parables and dark sayings to the intent that the majority should not understand his message—to the intent that only Israelites indeed might appreciate and accept his call. No longer do we wonder that he declared that only those who would forsake all could become his disciples; no longer do we wonder that discipleship means self-sacrifice even unto death. Now we see that our heavenly Father could make no easier terms than these in connection with the peculiar high calling to joint heirship with his Son in the Kingdom to which he is now calling a little flock.
The point of this lesson is specially for those who have named the name of Christ, and who are professing to be his disciples. It is not enough that we profess discipleship; unless the matter goes deeper than this we will be rejected. Our professions of discipleship must be sincere, and the Lord knoweth the heart and will. Although he will judge us leniently so far as unwilling and unintentional weaknesses and imperfections are concerned, he will judge us most strictly in respect to our purposes, the intentions of our hearts. Our Lord is not here referring to the Church in her present condition as the embryo Kingdom: he refers to the glorified, actual Kingdom to be established at his Second Advent. His faithful will enter into [R3318 : page 45] that Kingdom by the resurrection change—by participation in the First Resurrection, which is to include only the blessed and holy.—Rev. 20:5,6.
While the Lord's people of the present age are not to be judged by their works but by their faith, as the Apostle Paul distinctly points out, saying, "By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified in God's sight," but we are justified by faith, nevertheless, works will be required. By our works we must demonstrate our faith, and, thank God, imperfect works can demonstrate to him the loyalty of our intentions, our wills. Hence the Apostle James says, "I will show thee my faith by my works," and to this all the Scriptures agree. If our works demonstrate to the Lord the sincerity of our faith, that faith will be acceptable to him and we will be counted perfect and be granted a share in the Kingdom, great and precious things which the Lord has in reservation for those who love him—not merely in word but also in deeds—for those who strive by the deeds of life to show forth, to demonstrate, their love.
The Lord carries this illustration to a considerable length, showing that he does not merely refer to people who are nominally called Christians en masse. From the Lord's standpoint the great majority of these would be merely classed as Gentiles; because they have never entered into any covenant relationship with God. The reference in this passage is evidently to those who have outwardly made a consecration of themselves to the Lord—to those who have outwardly professed a change of heart and vital relationship to the Lord. More than this, he includes not only a few, but "many," who in their outward course of life have in some measure acknowledged the Lord publicly and as here expressed.
This represents a class claiming relationship to the Lord and public ministry in his name—far above the ordinary masses of Churchianity. Our Lord declares that unless our consecration shall lead us to more than miracle-working and calling ourselves Christian, and preaching to others in the Lord's name, it shall profit us nothing. In order to have his approval "in that day" it will be necessary that we shall develop characters in conformity with the Father's will—in conformity to the Lord's Word. Nothing but character will stand the final tests.
All about us in so-called Christian lands we see and hear many in public prayer and hymns of praise call repeatedly Lord, Lord, yet whose conduct, so far as we can see, bears no good fruit, but rather evil fruitage. Many of them are like the thorns and briars to which the Lord likened them. They reach out with helping hands to lift man up, to bless and to ennoble, but the thorns and briars tear and do injury. We live in a day when little of this injury is done physically, because the laws of civilization would take cognizance of such evil deeds and punish the evil doers. Nevertheless, the thorny and briary people find abundant opportunity for injuring others with their lips, with their tongues. Slandering, backbiting, malice, hatred, envy, strife, proceed from them because this is their nature. These bramble and thorn bushes may indeed tie on clusters of grapes and figs to deceive, but the thorny and brambly character will be sure to manifest itself to those who come near them in the contact of daily life.
No wonder that our Lord determines that such are unfit for a share with him in his Kingdom and its great work of judging and blessing the world of mankind. How could busybodies and backbiters and slanderers be fit for the Kingdom of God's dear Son? Saying, Lord, Lord, or performing some miracle in his name, does not warrant them in expecting the great blessings which the Lord has in reservation for those who love him and who in turn are controlled by the spirit of love toward him and toward all the household of faith.
We are aware that in our day the confused and confusing doctrines handed down from the dark ages have become so obnoxious to reasoning people that they are inclined to say, Away with doctrines! it matters not what a man believes; it matters everything what he does. We sympathize with those who hold this sentiment, although we cannot at all agree with it. We hold to the contrary that doctrine is all important both to faith and works. If it were not so the Lord would not have given his doctrines so important a place in his teachings and in his parables as in the one now under consideration. No man can build a proper life unless he have some foundation, some doctrine, some faith. A man with no faith, no hope, is sure to be correspondingly lacking in character. We believe that the important thing is that we should have a proper foundation, a proper faith, a proper doctrine upon which to build character and good works.
Our Lord's illustration shows the possibility of building upon two kinds of foundation—a worthy and unworthy sort. But let us notice before we go further that this parable does not represent the heathen in any sense of the word, nor does it represent any who, living in civilized lands, have the eyes of their understanding so beclouded by ignorance and superstition, and their ears so dulled by the god of this world, that they do not hear distinctly the Lord's message. The parable is addressed to him "that heareth these sayings of mine"—who understands my teaching. The heathen have no place under this designation, neither have the great majority of those who profess Churchianity.
The parable then most clearly finds its two classes in those who have heard the good tidings and who have received them who outwardly have made consecration to the Lord, and who outwardly are building their hopes upon his promises. The hopes built upon the Lord's promises and unaccompanied by works are hopes built upon the sand. It is only a question of time until the great testing time shall come and such hopes will be shown to be worse than useless. They will be shown to have deceived their possessor, who thought himself safe in his assurances of a share in the Kingdom. Such hopes, such faith, as fail to obediently strive to do the Lord's will, such faith and hopes as consider that obedience is not essential to a place in the Kingdom, are falsely founded; their overthrow will come with great disaster.
On the contrary, those who build with obedience, their hearts as well as their tongues confessing and honoring the Lord, their deeds corroborating their faith, and their fruits bearing testimony of their vital relationship with the Lord—these shall pass through all the storms of life and shall never be moved, never be shaken, because they are on the foundation. No wonder that his hearers thought that our Lord's teachings were different from those of the scribes and Pharisees. There was a positiveness in his teaching not to be found elsewhere. And so it is today: the Word of the Lord is reasonable, logical and satisfying in a manner and to a degree that nothing else is.
The Apostle Paul (I Cor. 3:10-15) uses this same illustration in a slightly different manner. His illustration shows only those who are built upon the rock, Christ Jesus, but shows that two classes are building upon the rock and that while all such builders will be eventually saved, gain everlasting life, there will be nevertheless two classes of them—some saved abundantly in the Kingdom and others "saved so as by fire"—by passing through great tribulation. The Apostle's explanation is equally possible, whether we apply the gold, silver, and precious stones of the proper building to true doctrines, in contrast with the wood, hay and stubble to false doctrines, or whether we apply these symbols of gold, silver and precious stones as signifying character development, the results of sound doctrine, and the wood, hay and stubble the deficiency of character development.
The general tenor of all these lessons is that all those who think worth while to be on the Lord's side at all in this present age will do wisely if, after counting the cost, they completely lay aside not only their besetting sins but their ambition and their hope and every desire of an earthly kind—that their entire interests may be devoted to the Lord, to knowing his will, to serving him. These are they who really love the Lord more than they love houses or lands or father or mother or children or self; these are the Lord's Jewels, who shall be joint-heirs with him in the Kingdom and in the great work of blessing all the families of the earth in due time. "They shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels."