Peter faced this dilemma when God gave him the vision of the sheet with all its unclean contents and told him, “‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat’” (Acts 10:13, NKJV). Peter understood from the vision that his own plan to reach the Jews with the gospel was not the fullness of God’s plan for the extension of His kingdom and that God wanted him to go to the Gentiles. He determined that his business was to follow the Lord’s directions in spite of his own “ifs” and “buts,” and he went on to carry out the divine direction.
The church, aghast, as usual, at anything new, was down on it. This new church—which had only just itself been brought to God by a new Savior, a new revelation, a new call and a new faith—was down on Peter and summoned him before a council to answer for his conduct (see Acts 11:1-3).
He told them about his vision in the truthful simplicity of a man of God, and thank God, they had sense enough—yes, and love enough—to accept his explanations and to glorify God (vv. 4-18). Would to God we could get as much sense and charity these days!
You see, the church tends to be down on all the Peters who dare to do anything out of the jog-trot line. You may reason ever so urgently and show them that the old measures are not enough for everybody, that there is a great mass of outlying population that they do not reach; you may show them that these new measures of yours are quite as lawful as their old measures, and that, probably, they would be a great deal more useful, and moreover, that they have been borne in upon you by the Holy Spirit and that you feel as if there is a fire in your bones urging you to go and try them; yet they will not hold their peace and glorify God but will loose their tongues and vilify you.
I wish people would stop and think that the path they are now standing in—the well-beaten track on which they are now walking with such slow dignity—was once quite as new and unconventional and outrageous to their forefathers’ colleagues as the path that any new departure by the Holy Spirit may set before them now. They should read Neale’s History of the Puritans and see amid what a hurricane of excitement, opposition, contempt and persecution their forefathers fought for the very paths they are now standing still in and holding so sacred that they cannot have them disturbed.
If their forefathers had acted on the principles they are acting on, they would have stood still in old paths, and we would never have been in the new ones. These people stand in the paths of traditionalism and routinism, just where their forefathers left them, occupying all their time in admiring the wisdom and benevolence and devotion of their forefathers, instead of imitating their aggressive faith and marching on to the conquest of the world.
Will you throw yourself in with them? Or will you step out in front of the crowd and lead them down the path of true righteousness? For which is better: to let men be damned conventionally or to save them unconventionally?
Which is the most God-honoring? Which has the most common sense in it?
But it is now as it was in the days of the Son of Man—the church is full of those who “‘build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets”’” (Matt. 23:29-30). Jesus called such religious folk “hypocrites” (v. 29) and “serpents, brood of vipers” (v. 33) and said that they are “‘witnesses against [them]selves that [they] are sons of those who murdered the prophets’” (Matt. 23:29-31).
Motivated by Love
How is this pharisaical attitude played out in the church today? Let’s take an illustration. Suppose we have a church that is going comfortably along and is just where it was 10 or 15 years ago, making up for deaths and departures, but not really growing.
We will suppose that a member of this church gets converted. He has the sense of his transgressions and unfaithfulness being taken away, and the joy of God’s salvation is restored to his soul.
Now, in a moment—almost immediately, as in the case of Peter—as soon as the internal work is done, comes the external path opened up. The Spirit of God lays before him some new work, something strikes him that has been long forgotten or that never seems to have been recognized in his church.
He sees what a grand thing it would be for the conversion of souls and the extension of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and he feels it beginning to burn like a fire in his bones to enter this path of usefulness. He prays much over it and waits until he is fully satisfied that it is not a vain impulse but is of the Spirit of God.
Full of love, faith and zeal, he goes to talk to the leadership. He expects they will sympathize with his feelings and enter into his project; but alas, they begin by raising objections: “Well, but you see, that would be a little out of our order”; or “That is not exactly our way of doing things”; or “I am afraid the deacons would object.” And if he has the misfortune to be young—or a woman—they will completely suppress him with the dictate, “You must never presume to do anything of which we do not approve.”
Alas! The thousands of urgings of the Holy Spirit; the thousands of heavenly voices that have been as clear to human souls as ever Peter’s sheet was to him; the thousands of glorious aspirations and schemes for the spread of the kingdom that have been thus squashed!
But not all souls will be so easily put off. The possessor of divine love holds out, in spite of opposition, ingratitude and persecution. He seeks the good of all men, not merely because he ought but because he cannot help it. His heart is on the side of God and truth. He loves righteousness and therefore cannot desist from seeking to bring all beings to love it, too, although they hate and despise him for so doing.
Jesus held out in this glorious love, even in the agonies of crucifixion. “‘Father, forgive them,’” He said, “‘for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34). His heart was set on bringing man back to God, and He went through with it. His soul did not draw back, and His divine love constrained Him even unto death.
Do you have this divine love? Do you have enough of it to take you beyond your petty, selfish interests and your concerns about what other people will think to a place in front of the pack? Will you step out, all alone, and become a forerunner in your generation? If you do—if you will—you may be surprised at the revival God begins through you.
Catherine Booth (1829-1890) was co-founder with her husband, William, of The Salvation Army, as well as the mother of nine children and a much-sought-after, powerful preacher. Adapted from Papers on Godliness by Catherine Booth, copyright © 1881. Reprinted in 1986 by The Salvation Army Supplies and Purchasing Department.
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