John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir), one of the most outstanding men Scotland has produced in our times and well known for his romances of adventure, pointed out in one of them that "in this life you could often get success, if you did not want victory"; but, he added elsewhere in the story, "in this world I do not think you can get both at once—you must make your choice."
Experience has convinced me that this pronouncement by a wise man of affairs who had vast experience is profoundly true. Success—of a sort at least—is open to most of us, if we are willing to pay the price. But we ought to realize at the start that the price is a very high one, no less than the abandonment of all prospect of victory.
Many phrases have been used to describe the events narrated in the Gospels, but I have yet to find them referred to in earnest as "a success story." The Lord Jesus did not want success; in sober fact, He took good care that in no circumstances should He possibly have it. He wanted victory. He won victory over death and now He is awaiting the day of victory over all His enemies. By the world's standards He was, and is, "an unsuccessful man." None of the things He did or the movements inaugurated at His will have won success. Many in His name have done so; but only at the cost of abandoning Him or His standards, and therefore Him. And every movement within the Church visible that has ever achieved success has done so at the price of apostasy from the Faith. They have deliberately chosen the inferior goal and have thereby thrown away all prospect of victory.
An outstanding example of the cult of success is the so called "Oxford Group Movement" as it was some twenty five years ago. One of its hierarchy then urged me to join and offered me success: spectacular conversions, crowded meetings, bulging collection salvers, and all the rest of it. When I declined, he had the audacity to declare that it was because "there was not enough of the cross in my life." No doubt he was right, but not in the sense he meant; for in the whole of their proceedings I could not perceive the smallest trace of a cross.
Perhaps if Satan could tempt the Lord Jesus once again, he would make the same comment on His refusal to yield!
So blind are these votaries of Success that they are wholly unable to perceive that "the cross" and "success" in this world as it is, do not and cannot go together. The soulish elation which lifts them up is a very different thing from the cruel wood and nails which eventually lifted up the Lord Jesus.
On a much lower plane of achievement, yet tinged with this same lust for success in this world, is the boastful "Editorial" of the July, 1958 issue of another periodical. Yet, viewed in heaven's light, what worth is such limited success when purchased at the price of holding fast to a tradition which has been proved to be untenable? That sort of straw and stubble is fit only for the consuming fire for which it is destined.
Infinitely better are the complaints and reproaches, together with the pain and toil and heartache which go with patient faithfulness to God and His Word. They are the essence of the cross, but they are the only way to ultimate victory. My colleague and I get plenty of these. We accept them gratefully as the sure token that the work we are struggling to accomplish is well-pleasing to our God.
We have to go on with this difficult task because faithfulness demands nothing less. Someone must carry out the witness for the truth, and the effort never ceases to be needed. And it does bear fruit.
For instance, in our June, 1958 issue, pp. 143, 144, I quoted a pronouncement by Mr. O. Q. Sellers admitting that in the statement recorded in Acts 28:28 Paul "was not sending God's salvation to the nations. He was announcing what God had done." This leaves no room for doubt that, in his view, the actual sending was an accomplished fact which had already taken place when Paul spoke those words. Yet another of the adherents of "the Acts 28:28 frontier" is quietly dropping it.
On the other hand, the context of this concession indicates that it
is not a joyful acceptance of the truth but, rather, a carefully
planned withdrawal from what has been realized, at last, to be a
hopelessly untenable position. For no reasonable person can any longer
regard Acts 28:28 as the actual
despatch itself of the saving-work of God to the Gentiles. Mr. Sellers
evidently hopes to be able to cling to it as the moment of the announcement of this despatch to everyone. So he contradicts his concession thus:
"I would say at once that before Acts 28:28, the salvation of
The employment of the word "nation" here is significant. If this
quotation means anything definite at all, it is that the nations are
now what the nation of Israel once was—in fact, the old heresy
that other nations have succeeded to the
promises made to Israel. Moreover, as (according to Mr. Sellers) "even
Israel today is one of the nations, and is in no way favoured above
others"; the saving-work must be still with them, even though shared
with the other nations, so it has not been taken away from them after
all. As Scripture has nothing whatever to say about such sharing now,
it will be interesting to see what Mr. Sellers tells us next.
God was with and among the nation of Israel; after Acts
28:28 it is with and among the nations."
However, one thing emerges clearly from all this confusion. Even now, in spite of the successes of error, we are able to witness some measure of victory for truth, a foretaste of the complete victory which awaits it when we have finished the struggle in which we are so earnestly contending.
R. B. WITHERS Last updated 19.1.2006