Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Adapt the message?

One of the great misapprehensions that the Church of Christ in these days seems to labour under is that these are the days of the "modern men" and that, therefore, she must adapt her message and her means in order to make herself acceptable to this strange species. What many fail to realise, of course, is that man has always been "modern man" in whichever age he has found himself, and indeed, this is just the case. Sixteenth-century man was "modern man" in the sixteenth century; and seventeenth-century man was "modern man" until the eighteenth-century man came along to claim that title; and, in point-of-fact, first-century man was no less "modern man" (in his time) than twentieth-century man is at this present time. When the Church of Christ, therefore, imagines that she must turn somersaults in an effort to get to this phenomenon of modern man she is failing to appreciate that it is a phenomenon that just does not exist – or, at the most, no more exists in this twentieth century of this world's history from the cross than it ever existed right from the very beginning of time.

Now, there was no single group of people who imagined themelves more deserving of the title of "modern man" than those citizens of the ancient city of Athens that the apostle Paul visited on one of his great preaching journeys. If you read the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles you'll see how the whole atmosphere at Athens just bristled with the idea of man at the very heights of achievement and ability. On every hand was the handiwork of man: in one place stood a great theatre, in another a great hall of learning; here was the massive statue of Minerva that rose sixty or seventy feet from base to head, and the stature of Athenia the warrior that showed the gleaming point of his spear for a distance of something like forty miles. Here was the court of the Areopagus where all the wisdom and learning and philosophy of Greece found expression and vent – where the feet of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and Euripedes trod. Here were buildings that dazzled the eye with their architecture and grandeur and were a wonder for all to behold. Here was man, in fact, - first century modern man – at the very pinnacle of progress and polish in his own estimations and assessments; and here was man in the very depths of despair and hopelessness in the estimations and assessments of the servant of the Lord whom the Lord had sent into that great city at that time.

The summary of all that the apostle Paul saw in the city of Athens as he waited there for Timothy and Silas is curt and to the point, "Now while Paul waited for them at Athens … he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." Idolatry! That's what the Lord's servant saw. And the Athens of Paul's day is but one of the best commentaries on the Bible's truth about the world by wisdom not knowing God. "He saw the city wholly given to idolatry." "Full of idols," as the margin of the Bible says; idols of Zeus, and Mercury, and Jupiter; of Beauty, and Love, and Music, and all the emotions you could possibly conceive of. So many idols, in fact, that it was said that there were "more gods than men in the streets of Athens." And that's what Paul saw.

Now, here is the point, of course, the position that the apostle Paul now finds himself in at Athens is a remarkable parallel to the position of the church in our own "modern" society today. "But, we don't see idols raised up today – at least not in our own land at any rate," says someone. But what we must bear in mind is this, that Athens' idols were only an expression of Athens' Godlessness, and Godlessness can express itself in a hundred and one different ways once it has settled itself in the hearts and minds of men and women. Athens' idols were the outward manifestation of Athens' thinking and Athens' thinking was dominated by the two schools of philosophy that minted the current coin of thought in those days. Acts 17 and verse 18 tells us what those two schools were, "Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him …"

The Epicureans were the disciples of a philosopher named Epicurus, and the things that most characterised their teaching was that it was only this present life on this earth that really mattered. Man (and all matter in general) had come from nothing – there was no beginning: and, as there was no beginning, then there was nothing beyond this life; there was only the grave, and nothing beyond it. The emphasis, therefore, was the present; "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

The Stoics were the disciples of another philosopher named Zeno. In some respects, they seemed at the other end of the scale from the Epicureans. They more or less disdained this life in the flesh, and it was the great aim of the Stoic to overcome the baser elements. However, what bound him close to the Epicurean was the same general outlook concerning the origin and end of things, like the Epicureans, the Stoics also believed that there was nothing that originated life and there was nothing beyond the grave. Indeed, one of the greatest act a Stoic could perform was suicide. When he felt that he was failing to conquer this life in the flesh, he would end it, and this he might readily do, for the grave was the end and there was nothing beyond.

 Now then, into this situation comes the apostle Paul as the representative of our God and the bearer of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. What possible approach can the apostle make to these men of "modern" thought and achievement? These who have taken all the wisdom of their day and have pronounced once and for all on the origin and nature and end of all things? Listen well to the word that he preached from that same verse 18; "Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say?" Others said, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods;" - and then, their reason for speaking like that – "Because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection." Let that word sink well into our hearts and minds, my friends. Here stood the apostle Paul in the most up-to-date city of that day, with all the outward manifestations of the thinking of that day surrounding him in all their imposing might; in a place where the dominating nations was – live-it-up, there is nothing after you die; and what did he preach? Jesus and the resurrection." He preached about that day when each and every inhabitant of that city of Athens would stand before the God with whom they had to do; "he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection."

If you want an expansion of that phrase, then read on down the chapter and into the words of the sermon which Paul eventually preaches on Mar's Hill before that august body of the court of the Areopagus. The men that constituted that court were among the very elite of the "modern" men of their day. Read that sermon well as Paul unapologetically declares the truth of "the God who made all things," - the Creator God; the God who sustains all things, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being;" and the God who will wind up all things "in that day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he hath ordained …"

 Here is the church preaching in the modern world! And it is high time for the church of our day to awake out of her sleep and her ridiculous dream that she exists in a "unique" age of modern man. Epicureanism, or Stoicism – any ism of our day – are just the old natural theology of the human heart that "will not retain God in its knowledge." In that respect, man is always modern. And if the church, then, will be "modern" she will, indeed, be modern by combatting that old natural theology with the self-same message that God's inspired apostle took up during those days in "modern" Athens.

W.J. Seaton

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