Our Spiritual Foes and Perils

Our Spiritual Foes and Perils—No. 1

A faithful and fearless discussion of the worker's conflict.

By W. R. BEACH, Secretary of the Southern European Division

This advent movement is spiritual; and if it is to triumph, it must remain so. This being true, then we, the leaders, must be genuinely spiritual men—men who walk before the Lord. The stream does not rise higher than its source, and our churches will not escape the operation of this law. It is supremely important, therefore, that we ex­amine our manner of life to make sure that God is at our right hand, and that our attitudes and practices are such as to develop and main­tain in us the Christlike life.

At different times I have been asked to speak frankly and to point out the spiritual perils, as I view them, which attend the work of the man of God. This I will seek to do, with keen consciousness of my own limitations, and with the aim of indicating practical, constructive measures for counteracting and overcoming these trends. I shall not present any straw men, or deal with any theoretical points, but shall confine myself to those spiritual perils which have been experienced in my own life, or which have been revealed to me by my contact with others who have bared their hearts to me. If we are to wage successful warfare, we must locate our enemies and thoroughly understand their devices. Furthermore, there is nothing to be gained but disaster in minimizing our perils and hiding our head, like an ostrich, be­fore them.

Spiritual Perils Which Beset

1. Aimlessness.—The first peril I would mention is spiritual aimlessness. So many of us have no definite aim or plan for spiritual culture, for the increase of spiritual knowledge and discernment, for spiritual enrichment, for the augmenting of spiritual power and fruitful­ness. If a man does not observe certain ac­cepted laws in the care of his body, he will soon find himself on the rocks physically. If he has no definite program for mental improve­ment, he will inevitably go to seed intellectu­ally. If he has no plan for his personal finances, he and others related to him and dependent upon him are bound sooner or later to find themselves in economic embarrassment.

The same is emphatically true in spiritual in­terests. These cannot be husbanded, developed, and enriched through magic. A genuine spiritual life is not the product of chance. We do not drift into Christlikeness, neither do we lead others to this sublime state, in such an aimless way. Either we work our way by design and plan against the tides into a deeper and transforming experience with Christ, or we drift away from His presence and are cut off from Him.

How many are devoid of definite aim in their ministry for souls! Aimlessly they drift through years of endeavor, scarcely aware of the great purpose of their life. When ques­tioned by a credentials or conference commit­tee, they cannot understand why their effi­ciency is challenged. The man of God must have a plan for his battle, a design for his campaign. Every minute detail should be cal­culated before God. Every Bible study must have an aim, every conversation an objective, every sermon a goal. When the preacher steps behind the sacred desk, he should be ready to answer with definiteness should an angel from on high question him: "What doest thou here today?"

2. Superficiality is likewise one of our great dangers. How few really impress one as sinking shafts down into the deep things of God. However, for each of us there are in­exhaustible depths of spiritual wisdom and knowledge, unworked leads or views of untold spiritual wealth. Why lead shallow, impover­ished lives? Here is the haunting question every worker should ask himself today, as he labors with the Master Builder : "Is the dis­cipline of our lives, the culture of our souls, the thoroughness of our processes, such as to prepare a movement to meet the limitless op­portunity offered on every hand, and at the same time to bear the terrific strain of these evil days?"

3. Hypocrisy.—Cant or hypocrisy today, as ever, constitutes a grave spiritual clanger. Christ directed His most scathing denuncia­tions against it. It is, in reality, the lurking, natural peril of all spiritual leadership. The genius of a leader is that of imparting to other men definite convictions and setting convinced men to work for the cause they have been per­suaded to espouse. That means that most of his time is, or should be, spent in exhorting others and planning work for them. A leader must organize, guide, coach, and teach. His role is to inspire others to action and to the performance of high and important duties. His danger, unless he is most vigilant with refer­ence to the cultivation of his own spiritual life, is that there will be created a great chasm between what he enjoins upon others and what he himself actually is and does.

How shall we prevent such disparity be­tween preaching and practice, between profes­sion and possession? The secret of a helpful, contagious example and of a highly stimulative leadership lies in preserving at all costs a life of transparent sincerity and reality. Anything other than sincerity and reality is cant and hypocrisy—a spiritual comedy which deserves the denunciatory condemnation of Jesus Christ.

4. Formality.—Closely akin to the peril just mentioned is that of formality—possessing the "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." It is possible for us to become so familiar with the works of evil that, as we witness the terrible inroads and havoc of the forces of sin, we are no longer profoundly moved, as we once were, with emotions of revulsion and righteous indignation, or stim­ulated to aggressive warfare. Such a callous state should cause us serious concern. Can you imagine Jesus Christ ever regarding with composure or indifference any of the cruel, sad effeets of sin? The Puritans held this paradox for truth: "With increasing holiness grows the sense of sin." If sin does not seem more sin­ful to you now than it did six months ago, you ought indeed to be startled. The presence of Christ magnifies sin. Under the influence of His perfect example, searching teachings, and unerring principles, things which before we did not regard as sinful come to stand out as heinous sins ! Such is the work of daily sanc­tification.

It is also possible for the worker of God to become so accustomed to sacred terms and ex­pressions, and to spiritual associations and processes, that in contemplating these realities he is no longer moved, as he once was, with a sense of awe, wonder, and reverence. If such is the case with any of us, we should be alarmed, for it is a sure indication that we are drifting away from Christ on the broad, smooth road to formality.

5. Spiritual Pride.—Perhaps the most deadly peril to the life of the Christian is spiritual pride. The reason for this is that the man who is under the spell of pride does not know it, will not believe it, and, in fact, resents any suggestion concerning it. The gospel worker about whom I am most solicit­ous is the one who, as he hears what I say in this connection, comments: "This is one danger that does not concern me." But, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall !"

Most of the great downfalls of which I have heard were of men who prided themselves on their security.

6. The Sins of the Tongue must not be overlooked among the serious perils of the worker. They are of two kinds: sins of com­mission and sins of omission. Among the sins of commission, think of the prevalence of ex­aggeration and deceit ; or, putting it more bluntly, falsification. Even workers engaged in soulsaving endeavor are guilty of exaggera­tion in the recital of personal experiences, with the aim of glorifyink self as the hero. Some make written or oral reports which do not square with the facts, but present half-truths and overstatements. Yes, the test could be extended to the embarrassment of almost every one.

Then there is flattery. We use it often to enlist the cooperation of men. From some we need money, from others time, and the influ­ence of still others must be enrolled for a good cause. The danger is that we say things to the people which do not coincide with what we honestly think about them or what we say behind their backs.

Unkind criticisms, uncharitable judgments, and unjust appreciations constitute prevalent sins of the tongue. A good brother, known and respected by all, says that he considers such depreciatory and undermining remarks about others as the besetting sin of gospel workers. Much to our shame and confusion, must we not admit the correctness of his state­ment? Could we but realize how belittling to ourselves and to our ministry such practices are in the eyes of friends and fellow believers, we would quickly put them aside forever. Not only are they unfair to others, but they also develop in us uncharitableness and unchrist­likeness. How such practices must grieve the heart of our Saviour on whose lips neither guile nor sin was ever found!

Then there are also the sins of omission. There are times when we do not speak the word of encouragement that we should. We ought to speak the word of warning when we see someone drawing near the precipice. We ought to sound the word of protest when sin lifts its head, and, like our Lord, never let devilish plans and activities go unrebuked. We ought also to speak the word of guidance when the call for service sounds forth. Such is the Christlike ministry of the tongue.

Spiritual Starvation.—Now let me call attention to spiritual starvation. This is our most outstanding peril. Spiritual starvation is the cause of most of the evils which beset the life of workers in the cause of God. The most pathetic sight is that of gospel workers dis­tributing the bread of life with emaciated hands. They are busy trying to feed others, but are themselves really starving. What lack of foresight, for they soon will fail utterly in their task, because they are undernourished themselves. Plato once said: "The granary must be filled if the hungry are to be fed."

Dwell for a moment on the example of our Lord in this vital respect. Think of Him as rising early in the morning while it was yet dark and going into the desert place to com­mune with His heavenly Father—"for their sakes." Think of Him going out of the noisy, busy city night after night, to the Mount of Olives, "as His custom was," for the purpose of sanctifying Himself "for their sakes." What presumption to think that with starv­ing, devitalized lives we can really render service to the hungry creatures all about us.

One of the utterances of Christ which means most to me is this : "From within Him shall flow rivers of living water." John 7:38. A. R.V. Or, better rendered, "Out of your in­most selves shall gush torrents of living water." After a long trip, when traveling through an African desert, we came upon an oasis in the midst of which there was a bub­bling spring with gushing streams of cool water, clear as crystal. The heat of the torrid sun had been almost unbearable, but the cool­ing stream soon wiped out the memory of ex­cruciating thirst. "Out of your inmost selves shall gush torrents of living water" into the thirsty lives of the desert travelers every­where!

But if "living waters" are to gush forth from us, we ourselves must drink deeply at the fountain. Dwight L. Moody once said in an address to evangelistic workers : "We are all leaky vessels: we need frequently to be re­filled." Indeed, we must be constantly refilled if torrents of living waters are to flow forth from us.

—To be concluded in March

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By W. R. BEACH, Secretary of the Southern European Division

February 1939

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