What do we say to our self-indulgence, our sloth, our love of ease, our avoidance of hardship, our luxury, our pampering of the body, our costly feasts, our silken couches, our brilliant furniture, our snappy clothing, our braided hair, our jeweled fingers, our idle mirth, our voluptuous music, our jovial tables, loaded with every variety of wine and rich foods? Are we Christians? Or are we worldlings? Where is the self-denial of primitive days? Where is the separation from a self-pleasing luxurious world? Where is the cross, the true badge of discipleship, to be seen except in useless religious ornaments for the body, or worse than useless decorations for the sanctuary?
“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!” Is this not the description of multitudes who name the name of Christ? They may not always be “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” But even where these are absent, there is “high living,”—luxury of the table or the wardrobe—in conformity to “this present evil world.”
“At ease in Zion!” Yes! there is the shrinking from hard service; from “spending and being spent;” from toil and burden-bearing and conflict; from self-sacrifice and noble adventure, for the Master’s sake. There is conformity to the world instead of conformity to Christ. There is a following afar off, instead of a keeping pace with Him whom we profess to follow. There is a laying down, instead of a taking up of the cross. Or there is a velvet-lining of the cross, lest it should scrape our shoulders as we carry it. Or there is an adorning of the cross, that it may suit the taste and the manners of our refined and intellectual age. Anything but the bare, rugged and simple cross!
We think that we can make the strait gate wider and the narrow way broader, so as to be able to walk more comfortably to the heavenly kingdom. We try to prove that modern enlightenment has so elevated the race, that there is no longer the battle or the burden or the discipline; or has so refined the world and its pleasures, that we may safely drink the poisoned cup, and give ourselves up to the inebriation of the Siren song.
“At ease in Zion!” Even when the walls of the city are besieged, and the citadel is at the point of being stormed! Instead of grasping our weapons, we lie down upon our couches. Instead of the armor, we put on the silken robe. We are cowards when we should be brave; we are faint-hearted when we should be bold as Elijah or as Paul. We are lukewarm when we should be fervent; cold when we should be full of zeal. We compromise and shuffle and apologize, when we should lift up our voice like a trumpet. We pare down truth, or sugarcoat error, or make excuses for sin, in order to placate the world, or suit the spirit of the age, or “unify” the Church.
“Christ did not please Himself” (Romans 15:3). Yet if any one were entitled to please Himself, it was the Son of the Blessed, the Son of the Highest. He was no flesh-pleaser, no man-pleaser, no self-pleaser. He “pleased the Father” (John 8:29). He was the highest type or specimen of that which was found so pre-eminently in Enoch, who was commended as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5).
Paul did not please himself. “I have made myself a servant to all” (I Corinthians 9:19). “I discipline my body” (I Corinthians 9:27; Greek, “I buffet or maltreat”). There exists no picture of a self-denied man like that of II Corinthians 6:3-10. Let us study the whole passage, especially these words—“In much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonment, in tumults, in labors, in watching, in fastings.”
What minister of Christ, what Christian man or woman, does not blush and hang the head as he reads these words?
(We must) learn again self-denying Christianity. Not the form or name, but the living thing. “Christ did not please Himself.” Let us in this respect be His true followers; bearing burdens for Him; doing work for Him; submitting to the sorest toil for Him; not grudging effort, or cost, or sacrifice, or pain; spending and being spent for Him; relinquishing the lazy, luxurious, self-pleasing, fashionable religion of the present day. A self-indulgent religion has nothing in common with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; or with that cross of ours which He has commanded us to take up and carry after Him, renouncing ease and denying self. Our time, our gifts, our money, our strength, are all to be laid upon the altar. We are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1).
(We must) learn again faithfulness to His truth. We hear it often said that what the age needs, and what the Church needs, is religion—not theology. But the whole Bible takes for granted that there can be no true religion without a true theology. The Bible is God’s testimony to Himself and to His Son—the Christ of God. There can be no acceptable religion or worship or service except that which is founded upon that testimony. The belief of that testimony is life everlasting—the belief of any other testimony is death eternal. Let us be true witnesses for the truth—let us shun and hate error—trying those that propagate it, and finding them “liars”, as the Ephesian church did (Revelation 2:2-3).
Let the Master’s words in reference to the errors of the early churches sound in our ears—”Which thing I hate.”
Remember, dear ones: He walks among His churches; constantly moving to and fro with watchful care and love. For centuries He has thus been walking and watching—trimming His lamps, and supplying them with oil—sometimes also removing them out of their places. Thus this glorious One spoke to Ephesus; He speaks also to us.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
(Passages compiled and edited from “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” by Horatius Bonar, 1808—1889).