Thou shalt not commit adultery" applies to ministers as well as laymen. This problem is becoming one of the greatest hazards to the Christian pulpit in our time. Nor is this sin peculiar to our age. Abraham, David, and Solomon are but a few examples of God-ordained men who failed themselves, their families, and their God in this respect. Strange women have corrupted kings, priests, and prophets in ages past. In our own day this sin has lost none of its demon-inspired appeal.
Being a gospel minister does not immunize a man against temptation. If anything, it increases the liability.
Satan's special temptations are directed against the ministry. He knows that ministers are but human, possessing no grace or holiness of their own; that the treasures of the gospel have been placed in earthen vessels, which divine power alone can make vessels unto honor. He knows that God has ordained ministers to be a powerful means for the salvation of souls, and that they can be successful in their work only as they allow the eternal Father to rule their lives. Therefore he tries with all his ingenuity to lead them into sin, knowing that their office makes sin in them more exceeding sinful; for in committing sin, they make themselves ministers of evil.—Gospel Workers, p. 124. (Italics supplied.)
No man of God should cloak himself in the garment of false security on this point. If he is human, he is liable. The recognition of this fact is the minister's first line of defense. Self-trust is the most potent enemy of the minister's morals. "I can take care of myself," was the testimony of one man who was deprived of his ministerial credentials.
If God's man does not by word and deed stand against the tide of moral degeneracy that sweeps the world, then who will? "Everywhere are seen wrecks of humanity, broken-down family altars, ruined honles. There is a strange abandonment of principle, the standard of morality is lowered, and the earth is fast becoming a Sodom." —Ibid., p. 125. To stand against this overflowing tide of corruption, God has placed the gospel minister. But what if his own feet are found in slippery places? The answer is simple. Christ is misrepresented, and the truth lies fallen in the streets. The message of example is heard above the sermon thundered from the desk.
The Over-all Effect of Immoral Living in a Minister Is Fourfold
1. The Church. The members do not listen to such a man as unto God. They become bold in transgression, and discipline is impossible. Their confidence in all ministers is thus impaired. Apostasies increase under such an influence.
2. The World. Weakness in the pulpit cannot be hidden from the world. The power of the message is counteracted by the sins of the messenger. In a given community the church seldom recovers its past prestige with the world. In the years to come laymen will be embarrassed by questions concerning Pastor __________ who flaunted the law of the God who called him and sent him forth.
3. The Family. The minister's wife is usually one who has stood by him through the years of his training and early struggles. She has toiled with him, suffered with him, and shared his triumphs. She has borne his children, fed his frame, and made home a place of shelter from the world. Her "work is never done." Then, suddenly, she learns the shocking truth—that she is married to a promiscuous husband. No woman deserves this, least of all a preacher's wife. From that day forward she is never sure of him. This fact colors all future relationships. Though she forgives, she, being human, never forgets. He, then, must either become a bully, ensuring her silence by threats, or a cowering figure, pathetic in his weakness, who must purchase her silence at the price of his manhood. Then, there are the children. How long can the news be kept from them? And when they do learn, how can they continue to respect a man who does not respect himself?
4. Himself. What a price to pay for a moment of pleasure! There is first the loss of self-respect, the absence of which blunts the cutting edge of truth. There follows each transgression a weakening of the will to resist. Thus a man becomes a sinner handling holy things, defiling all that he touches.
"Why," asked a man who had been and still was practicing wickedness, "are souls converted to the truth through my influence?" I answered, "Christ is constantly drawing souls to Himself, and flashing His own light in their path. The seeker after salvation is not permitted to read the character of him who teaches him. If he himself is sincere, if he draws nigh to God, believing in Him, confessing his sins, he will be accepted."—Evangelism, p. 682.
Guarding the Safeguards
The wise man does not wait until the enemy is upon him to resist. He knows that few men are suddenly overcome.
One safeguard removed from conscience, the indulgence of one evil habit, a single neglect of the high claims of duty, may be the beginning of a course of deception that will pass you into the ranks of those who are serving Satan, while you are all the time professing to love God and His cause. A moment of thoughtlessness, a single misstep, may turn the whole current of your lives in the wrong direction.—Thid., pp. 681, 682.
Resistance must begin with the little things.
There will be women who will become tempters, and who will do their best to attract and win the attention of men to themselves. First, they will seek to win their sympathy, next their affection, and then to induce them to break God's holy law. . . . It is necessary to guard the thoughts; to fence the soul about with the injunctions of God's Word.—Ibid., p. 681.
My fellow pastor, we are hunted men. "Our great adversary has agents that are constantly hunting for an opportunity to destroy souls, as a lion hunts his prey."— Ibid. (Italics supplied.) Their method is further exposed in the following quotations:
Men who are doing God's work, and who have Christ abiding in their hearts, will not lower the standard of morality. . . . They will not find pleasure in the flattery of women, or in being petted by them. Let both young and married men say, Hands off! I will not give the least occasion to have my good evil spoken of.—Ibid., p. 680.
As a servant of Christ, despise the flattery; shun it as you would a venomous serpent. Rebuke the woman who will praise your smartness, holding your hand as long as she can retain it in her own. Have little to say to persons of this class; for they are the agents of Satan.—Ibid., p. 679.
An Ounce of Prevention
It is not necessary that the man of God be overthrown on this point. He can be victorious by the grace of God, but not without conscious effort on his part. "I wish I could impress upon every worker in God's cause, the great need of continual, earnest prayer. They cannot be constantly upon their knees, but they can be uplifting their hearts to God."—Ibid., p. 681. Prayer before emergencies provides power for emergencies. There is also the question of watchfulness, to avoid those situations that would render one cornered. There are still some Josephs among us, but there is no necessity for presumption. To stay out of sin's way is to steer clear of sin.
A Pound of Cure
Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness and relies wholly on the merits of the Saviour. God would send every angel in heaven to the aid of such a one, rather than allow him to be overcome.—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 17.
There is both pardon and healing in the heart of God for the transgressor of the law. And what is more, past sin does not make necessary future deviation. "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling" (Jude 24). "But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). A clean man with a clean message is our strongest guarantee of a clean church. The cycle of transgression can be broken. Have we the courage to break it?—E. E. C.