Sunday, December 06, 2009

The End of Discussion: My Arrogance

The Bible tells me that I am an arrogant and proud person. Indeed, that in me there is no humility whatsoever, but only a pride which knows no bounds. But the Gospel tells me that Christ has ascended up on high, and has poured out His Spirit into my cold dead heart of stone, and made it soft toward Him, and by which I now cry, “Abba, Father”, in the certain knowledge and full assurance that I have everlastingly been united to Him. This is the faith that the Spirit of Christ works in all those in which He dwells; He is the Spirit of adoption so that where once we were children of wrath, we are now called sons of the living God in Christ who is the well-beloved Son of God.

Only by this same Spirit, can I believe the Bible which tells me of the enormity of my pride. Only by this Spirit, who works the fruit of humility, can I believe the doctrines of sovereign unconditional and particular grace which demolishes all the grounds on which the pride of my flesh rests. By these mighty truths of Scripture, delivered to me by the One who is the Truth, my soul is set free to praise the glory of the Almighty God instead of the shame and dust of who I am. By this sword of the Spirit, sovereignly given to me, with Christ upholding and strengthening me, I am made willing in the day of His power to strike mercilessly at the root of pride in my own old self.

This true spiritual warfare rages within me; there is the new me, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, who is wholly enthralled only with the glory of God, and there is the old child of Satan, who was created for eternal destruction, and who has eyes only to despise God and all His works, and to proudly vomit up my own shame in putrid self-glorification. This is who I am apart from my Saviour Jesus Christ; all my being at enmity against God in bitter and violent hatred. But in Christ, I am redeemed, and renewed. I am a new creature, made to declare to wondrous praises of the Lord who has called me out of darkness into His marvellous light. For when I dwelt in darkness, I could only boast of myself, but when the light of Christ shone in my heart, I could see Him that dwells in unapproachable light, in the face of Christ, the image of the invisible God.

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” - Job. 42:5-6.

And now that I see who I am, as I see the perfection and splendour and beauty of the One to whom all praise is due, I live to put myself to death, seeing that I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And it cannot be possible for me to extol this wondrous grace enough, though I had all eternity in the state of perfection to declare it. But now, I travel through this pilgrimage of affliction and hardship – for I see the sure hope that I have, and I have not yet obtained it. The light of revelation fills my consciousness, awakens me, brings me to life from the dead, and yet while I tarry yet here in this present evil age, I have only the small beginnings of that new life in Christ. I have only the earnest and seal of the Spirit, and I await with deep groanings, the full inheritance that I have as a child of God in Christ.

When I look at myself, what do I see? Only sin. Do I even see a faint glimmering of that miraculous grace that I have received by the power of the Holy Spirit? I can only see small beginnings of obedience, that I could easily convince myself are merely manifestations of hypocritical self-righteousness and wishful thinking. But when I look to Christ, and see the glory and splendour of His death and resurrection for my sins, I am justified. I know He has borne my sins on the tree, for my iniquities it pleased the LORD to crush Him, for my transgressions He was wounded, and the chastisement that brought me peace was laid upon Him. By His stripes, I am healed. The LORD has laid on Him all my iniquity.

What do others see when they look at me? Much the same, I imagine. But many look at me more graciously than I deserve. But how ought we look at another Christian? Surely if the confession of his life is a credible confession that he belongs to Christ, we ought to afford him the judgment of charity, and treat him as a beloved brother in Christ, elect and justified by God. Unless he lives in some gross public sin, or denies the doctrine of Christ, surely we have no grounds to reject him, even though his faith may be weak and confused. Surely we ought to see him as a fellow-pilgrim, burdened and heavy-laden, battling with sin, and only standing by the omnipotent power of God which He exercised in raising Christ from the dead, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

We may say to ourselves, oh, does he not seem greatly prideful and arrogant? But do we so quickly lose sight of ourselves and the fierce battle that we too have against our own totally depraved nature? And how can we run so quickly to judge by appearances when if we were to do likewise with ourselves, we could only ever conclude that we were wholly forsaken and cursed by God? But we ought instead to have the faith of our father Abraham:

“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was also able to perform.” - Rom. 4:16-21.

After all, what is it that this precious faith that we have obtained consists of?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” - Heb. 11:1.

What then is the conclusion of this? That faith is the victory that overcomes the world!

“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” - Heb. 12:12-14.

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have [been led, Greek: prosagoge] by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” - Rom. 5:2.

The role of true humility in actively seeking to manifest the unity which all believers have together in Christ cannot be over-stated. But this is wholly absent when the judgment of charity is not also made. The only way in which the unity that all believers have in Christ (who is the Truth, and in whom we are united by the Spirit of Truth) can be manifested is by common confession of the Truth. We are commanded not to be silent but instead to all speak the same thing, without the truth, the only unity present is hypocritical carnality.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” - I Cor. 1:10.

“If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” - Phil. 2:1-2.

It is obvious to me, seeing with all the differences dividing churches and believers today, that to obey this apostolic command to all speak the same thing must require us to openly, frequently, continually, tenaciously, perseveringly and stubbornly discuss all these points of disagreement until we come to agreement in the truth. We ought to do this believing that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and the unchangeable One who cannot lie, will keep His promise that His Spirit will lead us into all truth,and that Scripture is sufficient and self-interpreting to make known to us the truth and keep us from error. We ought also to do this trusting that whatever our inadquacies, weaknesses, failures, sins, and errors are, that He can overcome them by His boundless grace.

But the attitude today of so many modern Irish Evangelicals tortures my soul. These simple principles are turned entirely upside-down and violently corrupted. Instead of pursuing discussion with such patience and charity, people so often end any attempt at discussion by accusing the others of pride and arrogance. I say to myself, yes, of course – that is who the Bible tells me I am, but why are you reacting like this? But seeing the inseparable connection between true active humility and graciously bearing with the sins of other in the judgment of charity, it is quite apparent that those with the most pride are those who end all discussion in this way. Implicit in their accusation against others of arrogance, is the idea that they are better.

Clothed in garments of hypocrisy, while they accuse others of pride, it is those with this attitude who are the schismatics, because by this cruel philosophy they burn the bridges of discussion, and refuse to speak about the things that divide us, so that then we can never come to a common understanding of Scripture. In the face of these eyes who say to the feet, “I have no need of you,” it becomes a difficult thing to continue to afford them that judgment of charity, to say that we ought to seek unity with them, seeing that they openly manifest themselves as schismatics actively opposing unity, despite their proud boasts and excuses. But knowing our own sinfulness, we ought to continue to invite these to discussion in the hopes that God will melt their hearts.

This is not judging hidden motives, but judging words and deeds. When a person consistently refuses to discuss any differences, and gives only the shallow and lame excuse that the others are too prideful, this is nothing less than schism in word and deed (not simply a hidden motive), and ought to be judged as such, so that this person may be called to repentance. But when this person presumes to judge the hidden motives of others as proud, this is only judging by mere appearances, which our Lord expressly condemns! How things have been reversed and confused by such hypocrites!

Against this, we ought instead to bear with one another, even if it seems overwhelmingly to us like the others are swallowed up in pride. Too often this is our own prideful perception, and ungraciousness toward our brother. Instead, in lowliness of mind we ought to consider the others better than ourselves, against all appearances; i.e. even if it appears to us that they are not affording us the same grace. And does the fact that the Bible tells us that we are all full of pride mean that all theological discussion ought to be abandoned or at least avoided? God forbid! For then how could we ever confess our Lord and Saviour who has called us to be His witnesses – ought we to sin for fear of sinning?

No, even though we know that all our "righteous" acts are as filthy rags before the Lord, to use this as an excuse for idleness, sloth, schism, silence, and inactivity is to mock the Lord who sanctifies our works. We may say, “If I do such and such, it will only be done with mixed motives and be therefore unacceptable to the Lord.” But this is the reasoning of our natural selves and Satan. We know by faith that the Lord will strengthen us because we are His workmanship, prepared unto good works, and so He will sanctify our works for His glory – and so instead of sinful unbelief, we ought to hope in our Saviour and press on to travel the narrow path that He has laid out for us. We ought therefore not to despair of reaping any good fruit from theological discussions simply because of our arrogance and other sins, but instead look to the mighty power of God who does as He pleases in the heavens and the earth.

Read the urgency and weight of the apostle's plea in Phil. 2:1. Why is this? There is one body, one Lord, one God, one Spirit, one Truth – and we together, as the body of Christ ought to be confessing a monotheistic religion to the world. Our testimony ought to be that there is only one Lord whom we obey, and that there is only Spirit who dwells and works in us all, and that we are only one body working in unison with all our different roles and functions. This issue weighs so heavily upon the apostle's heart because of his great and overwhelming desire that God's people would show forth God's glory. It is for this purpose that we were saved, and without this passion for the proclamation of God's glory to all creation, there is little passion for true church unity in which we confess the same thing. This is the root of modern Irish Evangelicalism's schismatic attitudes – it is the lack of a genuine desire for God's name alone to be glorified, and an ignorance that this is the purpose for which people are saved.

Finally, there is a great need, not only for the eager and dedicated pursuit of discussion, but also for that discussion to be wholly objective, strictly logical, decently ordered, and based solely upon the testimony of Scripture as the absolute authority in all matters of controversy. Without these, there is good grounds for refusing to enter discussion. For how can we argue with a man who tries to prove his doctrine simply by emotional pleading? And how can we come to agreement with a man who claims that directly contradictory statements can both be true? And in the midst of confusion and disorder, how could we even begin to discuss? And without God's Word in Scripture being the only authority, surely we have nothing to discuss.

May God graciously gather His people together, out of hypocritical, false, and apostatising churches, and into that which a true pillar and ground of the truth, which has not lost its first love.

Sam W.

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