The closing words of the paper "Law and The Law. Part 3" (p. 40) and "The Christian Dilemma" both raise a most important question; and I feel that the issues concerned call for further discussion, perhaps from a rather different point of view.
How far should we go towards meeting the mental bias, and often the prejudices, of those with whom we come in contact? By "meeting" I mean here rather more than simply providing an answer, for that is useless for a person who does not wish to hear any answer; I mean trying to ignore some differences in point of view in the hope of reaching some area of common agreement. Hitherto I have regarded this as not only ineffectual but also, by yielding a 1ittle way, as opening the door to a betrayal of truth.
Those who are prepared to accept only an evangel so watered-down that it can be presented with some expectation "of a measure of visible success," have their reward here and now. Not for them is the way of the crucified Lord and of the reproach of His cross. We can safely leave them to the enjoyment of what they have; for what we have is infinitely better and, moreover, indestructible.
Before leaving this for the present, there is one point which certainly ought to be considered, namely, the question why so many evangelical movements can claim successes which are far beyond our reach. The answer is simple enough: results depend on the nature and extent of one's commitment. If it is a total commitment to truth, no matter what the consequences may be; then we have to remember that the One Who was and is the Truth was despised and rejected and cast out, together with the truth which He came to declare. If the aim is success, with truth accepted only within the limits of conditions compatible with earthly success; then, just as we who seek the truth find it, so they who seek success achieve it—for what it is worth, which is very little.
In view of the foregoing and of comments received from some correspondents, it seems best to enlarge on this matter. J. N. Darby's translation of Isaiah 55: 9-11 reads as follows:—
Let us go through the seven occurrences of logos in 2. Timothy. These form a very natural introversion. The first and last (1:13 and 4:15) are plural. The importance of holding fast a pattern of sound words which we hear from Paul is reinforced by the reference to an individual withstanding very violently certain words of Paul. In these last days the world is full of such individuals. Each devotes his strongest efforts to withstanding Paul's words; and our only defence is to devote ourselves to a pattern of sound words set out by Paul and proceeding from him through the centuries to us. Yet even to accomplish this, we need to have a sound knowledge of the rest of God's Word.
The second corresponding pair. (2:9, 4:2) is the one that is most to the point in our present investigation. "The Word of God has not been bound" and "Proclaim the Word, stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely; expose, rebuke, intreat, with all patience and teaching. For the era will be when they will not tolerate sound teaching. . ." And yet "the Word of God has not been bound!" How can this be, if our proclamation appears to bring no results?
Isaiah 55:11 gives the answer. Nowhere are we told that the Word of God is going to meet with the sort of success we desire, every time we proclaim it. It shall accomplish that for which God sends it—and its rejection, or the terrifying way it is ignored nowadays, must be that for which God has used us to send it.
Undeniably it would be wonderfully pleasant and immensely cheering to be able to proclaim the Word of God in crowded halls with hosts of hearers believing, and demonstrating their belief in missionary works, with abundant funds pouring in and every possible assistance; but in this eon God simply does not work in that way. That sort of success IS of the flesh; and the desire for it is the sure sign of carnality and open denial and rejection of the way of the cross. Such success as that certainly was not the way of the Apostle Paul. Where are the churches which seemed so fair and prospered so exceedingly under his ministry? They no longer exist, and have not existed for many centuries, as churches; but solely in the wondedul epistles Paul wrote to them. These alone remain as an imperishable monument to the vast work he wrought in them. The church to which he wrote the great foundation epistle of God's Evangel and of the special Evangel which he described as "my Evangel," does indeed remain—as the queen of the apostate churches, the headquarters of the heresies that have almost entirely overwhelmed and swamped his Evangel.
Let us pause for a moment to consider how Paul felt as he wrote what was almost certainly his last epistle, 2. Timothy. His long and wonderful ministry was drawing to its close, not in blazing glory and brilliant success, but with enemies triumphing all around. Throughout the epistle he is handing over the torch to the Apostle Timothy, yet without any prospect of such success as he had enjoyed at first, but only a legacy of persecutions and sufferings (3:10, 11). Any failure as we may be called upon to endure is utterly eclipsed by his, as the importance of the ministry of any of us is eclipsed by his too. Yet do we find him complaining and enlarging on the injustice of the treatment he was receiving, as we all too often are inclined to do? Does he say anything like: "Look how I have served You, Lord; and look how You are treating me!" For that is what we, in the severe weakness of our mortality often in effect complain, even if we do not consciously realise we are doing it. No! Nothing even remotely like it. Instead he accepts with both hands the ultimate sacrifice that awaits him: "For already I am being poured out as a libation and the season of my dissolution has become imminent. The ideal contest I have contended, the race I have finished, the faith I have kept." How many of us could accept and even greet such a sacrifice?
We proclaim the Word of God; and His Word will not return to Him void; but it is an unwarrantable addition to His word to maintan that this means evident success, as we estimate success. In the end, when we are glorified in our celestial bodies, we shall see the whole of human history as God sees it. Then we will know that what appears to us now, in this life, as failure, will in the light of that vision be seen as success far beyond any we could ever imagine in our mortal bodies. His Word will accomplish His purpose, even in the deepest depths of apparent failure. That we know, and that is all we need to know.
R.B.W. Last updated 15.11.2005