True friends are rare finds—friends that see our faults, yet despite them all, continue to love, trust, and aid us; friends tried and true, sound and sane, that stick through thick and thin, closer than a brother. There are so many fair-weather friends, who are with us to flatter when the sun shines, but who drop away when the clouds gather—just when we really need friends most. Every leader, for instance, has his flatterers—sycophants who seek, consciously or unconsciously, to capitalize upon the advantages of his friendship, but who, when his period of leadership has passed, turn quickly away, seeking the next prospective advantage in the offing.
But apart from this sordid aspect, every man needs a friend who will point out his hampering faults, just "between him and thee alone." He needs someone to tell him the mistakes he is making that are causing misunderstandings or loss of moral support from the church, conference, or institution with which he is connected—faults that are needlessly crippling his work and influence. It takes courage, grace, and grit to be such a friend, for most people resent being told that which does not please. They feel they are in the right, that others are wrong and unjustly against them. They feel that they have been misunderstood and their motives misconstrued—the fault being ever that of others.
Being such a friend is often a decided risk. And therefore, the right people seldom tell us what we really ought to know concerning ourselves and our faults. Caustic critics will attempt it, but we do not take kindly to their strictures, for we never know how accurate or dependable their biting words may be. And even though we may accept such a criticism, we resent the spirit and the gloating of the critic who offered it.
It is noteworthy that strong leaders seek to surround themselves with candid counselors and outspoken friends who have convictions, and who feel free to express them at the proper time and place. In the multitude of such counselors, there is wisdom and strength. On the other hand, dominators, who are usually weaklings in many ways, want "yes men" who will support their every idea and project, or will keep still if plans are contrary to their better judgment.
But now let us apply these generalities to certain specific needs and problems. The joking preacher, for instance, no matter who he may be, needs to be told of the seriousness of his offense before God. ,and its alienating effect upon the thoughtful and the spiritual in his congregation.
The spectacular sensationalist needs to be told how his proclivity makes his stanchest church members ashamed to own him as their pastor, and hesitate to bring their friends to hear his evangelistic addresses.
The superficialist, who is always making wild or unwarranted statements, projecting half-digested theories, and plunging into deeps when he paddles with difficulty even in the shallows, needs to be told that he frequently makes an unsavory spectacle of himself.
Would-be theologians who make foolish, unsupported declarations about the mysteries of the Godhead (a subject upon which "silence is golden"), the depths of the atonement, the, intricacies of the prophecies, history, science, the original sources, etc., or who project themselves into controversies in which they have no legitimate place—and thus lose all influence with the really informed—need to have the situation brought very plainly before them.
Uncultured workers who know little of gentility, and who by their boorish violation of gentlemanly standards turn away the refined from exalted truths because they cannot somehow conceive of such truths as blending with such uncouth sources, need to be given real help.
The maker of homemade stereopticon slides who is without artistic training and devoid of color values, whose products are cheap, flashy, and smudgy, needs to be told that, in this preeminently picturized age, such efforts hinder instead of help, that they repulse instead of attract. Such should be persuaded to desist in their imposition of pseudoartistry.
The untrained, mediocre, would-be musician —singer, instrumentalist, or composer—who may be flattered onward by friends without musical discernment, but whose renditions are crude, and whose compositions are merely jingles, should be encouraged to keep silent, or to employ his gifts just for his own edification, and not project them upon his congregation because he is advantageously placed.
Misusers of English who mispronounce the common words of their mother tongue—who, for example, insert an extra syllable in griev-ous (making it griev-i-ous), and likewise instead of bias phem-ous, pronounce it blasphem i-us; make Jerusalem rhyme with slum, instead of gem; or who emphasize peticular instead of particular, etc.—such we submit, need a real friend who will help them overcome the thoughtless but depreciating mistakes in their pronunciation, which can easily be corrected with a little care.
The list is not complete, but it is enough. It illustrates the principle. Verily, true friends are greatly needed. But who is prepared to make the venture? Must we not ourselves take the initiative and seek out the candid counsels of such as can truly help us to see what others see?
Preaching we are prone, in our preaching, to swing to one of two alternate extremes. We tend to be content and engrossed with sound doctrine, and neglectful, or perchance experimentally unaware, of the wondrous, joyous provision of righteousness by faith—actual salvation through Christ and His keeping power—except as just another doctrine in our category of truths. Or, when its wonders are experienced, we tend to be so filled with its blessed reality as to neglect those basic, interrelated, distinctive truths concerning God, the plan and basis of redemption, man's nature, etc., known as "doctrine," that are imperative as the setting and framework of the gospel committed to us. There is peril in the neglect of either, for they arc the two inseparable halves of God's whole truth and provision for man.
Because of the doctrinal perversions surrounding us—which must be overcome before we can persuade others to accept "present truth"—and because of ceaseless opposition from other religious bodies and their leaders, we have been forced to emphasize sound doctrine in opposition to the perverted doctrines prevalent. Our peril lies in contentment just at that point.
God's final message of warning, entreaty, and salvation to mankind is not simply a body of systematized doctrines and prophecies which, if believed, will save the soul. It embraces doctrines, of course, and is couched in the framework and setting of specific beliefs which can never rightly be omitted or minimized. But ours is a gospel message—the "everlasting gospel," unchanged and unchangeable. It is the apostolic message revived. In its fundamental essence, it is a sacred, personal transaction between the soul and God, at once so simple that a child or an untutored heathen without knowledge of history or the ramifications of theology can believe, accept, and be saved. At the same time it is so profound that the greatest intellects cannot plumb its measureless depths. it reaches even to the extremities of the dying hour—witness the thief on the cross.
God's message has ever been keyed to the needs, the misunderstandings, and the perversions of each specific age. And in this day of the consummation of apostasy, when we face not only the unchanged and unrelenting papal apostasy, but also a confused, contradictory, and apostate Protestantism as well—which has lost both its protest and its message —we stand virtually alone seeking out God's honesthearted, sin-sick, truth-loving children wherever they are. These have assuredly been filled with false, perverted doctrine.
Shall we simply correct false ideas about the Sabbath, the nature of man, the great judgment hour, where we are in the stream of time, et cetera? Nay, we must save the soul ! We must cause the Sabbath to be the living sign of a living relationship to Creator and Re-creator in the midst of apostasy, denial of creation, and scouting of God's supernatural act of grace in the soul. We must clothe the bony framework of our doctrines with living flesh. We must see that our converts are transformed, that they have yielded completely to God, for Him to control all and direct all in life or death, temptation or service. Until we have done that, we have not performed our bounden duty as ministers of God in this remnant hour.
Luther was deeply distressed in his later years over the obvious fact that many who joined the Protestant ranks and entered the church of his founding, who were persuaded of its correctness as against Rome's perversions, had nevertheless not passed through the crisis of conversion and surrender of life, as he and other early converts in the early days of battle and anguish had done. And there was foundation for his fears. The same perils confronted, and the same disasters followed in the Wesley movement, which was used of God so mightily in its day. Dare we say no similar peril confronts us? Is our complacent knowledge of sound doctrine sufficient to prevent formalism and lukewarmness from becoming our curse?
Let us read again, as ministers, God's serious charge against Laodicea, in this final period of the sevenfold depiction of God's true church spanning the centuries. Our marvelous system of organization and finance will never save us. The living Spirit of God in the moving wheels of the movement is our supreme need. Let us pull in even, harmonious lines, avoiding extremes, and putting primary emphasis on the manifest fundamentals.
L. E. F.