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, September 3, 2016

Dr. Gamaliel's Advice

When that Pharisee named Gamaliel, the doctor of the law, held in reputation by all the Jewish people, stood up and gave his advice concerning what should be done with the apostles of the Lord as they stood arraigned before the Jewish Council, he not only apparently settled the minds of his fellow-Sanhedrinists on the matter, but he also seemed to set a pattern of assessing spiritual things for generations of Christians yet unborn. You remember the basis of his counsel; “Refrain from these men,” he advises the other members of that Jewish Court, “... for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5 chapter 5 verses 38-39) 

On face value, there is a lot in Gamaliel's advice to commend it. Men's works do come to nothing; God's works cannot be overthrown; it is a dangerous thing to be found “fighting against God.” And insofar as Christians adopt those principles and apply them with the added ingredients of pure spiritual understanding, they will not go far wrong in their assessments of the issues that confront them in these days. However, it does seem sad to say that this isn't the case, and all-too-many believing folk are all-too-inclined to apply the old Pharisee's advice in absolutely the same way that he did, and come to absolutely the same wrong conclusion as he arrived at, so rejecting the apostles and their gospel of eternal life. 

Now, perhaps, that last phrase contains the whole root of the matter: - “their gospel of eternal life.” For the one thing that failed to enter into Gamaliel's advice, and, indeed, into his own method of assessing whether or not that apostolic thing was of God, was eternity. Yes, indeed, if a thing be merely of men it will come to nought, and if it be of God it cannot be ultimately overthrown. But Gamaliel failed to recognise that only the eternal day would fully reveal the origin of all the religious works and establishments appearing upon the earth in this short and puny realm of time. Should we ever forget that priceless glance that our dear Saviour gives us into that day of reckoning the deeds and works of men when He sets before us the case of that man who had prophesied in the Lord's name, as he claimed; in His name had cast out devils, and in His name done many wonderful works. What a high success rating that man would have had in one of our evangelical periodicals reporting on his life's work and labours; he had enjoyed a life crowned with the fruit of his labours. Yet, what a staggering word comes from the Lord of eternity as He pronounces the true worth of those things that had seemingly been accomplished; “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Who would have dared to say that all that “success” was not of God? 

The answer is abundantly clear: God! Had Gamaliel been called to make an assessment, it would have been far otherwise, for Gamaliel adopted the touchstones of carnal sense, as does his followers even up to this time. Remember the strength and the power of the Holy Spirit with which that church at Jerusalem was called into being and maintained through the ministry of the Lord's apostles? Where is that splendour of that church today in that city? In fact, if Gamaliel could but walk the streets of Jerusalem today he would, no doubt, feel completely justified in his original suspicions – the church of Christ was not of God; to prove it, it has come to naught in Jerusalem.

 But, as we say, Gamalielism is not dead, and, in fact, pervades the thinking of present-day Christianity. The great over-riding anxiety appears to be whether or not a thing is going to produce apparent success and favourable statistics, and not whether or not it is going to endure the eternal flame which is to raze all men's works to the ground. If it can give that appearance of success, then, obviously, it must be of God – Gamaliel said so – and if it is flagging a little and not appearing “fruitful”, then obviously that state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, and so, the “evidences of success” must be sought and achieved at any cost. Needless to say, we are never to rest in our meagre labours, or the fruits of them, but we are to continually seek the Lord to send us a blessing, being absolutely committed in the work of the gospel to the praise of His name. But we are also to remember that upon the same foundation it is possible to build with “precious stones,” or with “wood, hay and stubble,” and again, it is only eternity that will reveal which was which. 

You see, of course, the great defect in Gamaliel's counsel: he failed to apply to the real touchstone for assessing the things of religion. He looked around him and declared that it was possible to measure an eternal God by temporal sight; he looked into the realms of history – the case of Theudas and then Judas of Galilee; he looked to the possibility of “could be” - it could be of God even. But the one place that he did not look was the only one place that could have provided him with and answer and brought forth an entirely different scheme of assessing into his words and thinking. He did not look to the Word of God! Had he searched the Scriptures in the light of the apostolic message that Peter had just delivered who knows that there might never have been such an utterance, and never have been such a process as evangelical Gamalielism. Be that as it may, there is no justification for the believing people of God in giving it houseroom now that it has appeared.

 Although “recorded” in the Word of the Lord, it is not an infallible directive for the people of God, for it wasn't even spoken by a regenerate believer, but by a stiff-necked old Pharisee who only proved to be instrumental in having the apostles flogged for their refusal to lay off speaking the words of the gospel. But, the believers' court of appeal is not Gamaliel, but God. It is not the “results” apparent to our natural senses that determines whether a thing is of God or men, but the ever abiding Word that is constantly telling us, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Of course, Gamaliel's behaviour is classical, really. He doesn't turn to that word of God's truth, and so, is permitted to keep himself in that most fleshsatisfying position of all when it comes to man and his God; he permits himself the glory of indecision. He can't really say what the true position is, and so, he will stand uncommitted on account of that. The application there should be clear to us all; is it not true that we love to remain agnostic – without knowledge – in a lot of things concerning the position and state of the church today, and the direction we should be taking in the light of God's truth. To turn to the Word of God would be to leave us standing absolutely without excuse in a dozen-and-one areas, and prove the validity of the old hymn, “Neutral you cannot be.” And so, the word of God as the touchstone and director and assessor of our doings and behaviour is set in the background, and Dr. Gamaliel's method of diagnosis has come to hold the field. 

Look around you today, and what determines much of our Christian thinking and behaviour? Is it God's eternal and infallible truth that will yet judge all things in the light of an eternal day? We fear that it is most often the counsel and doctrine of that Christ-defying Pharisee of the Jewish nation who only gave his carnal advice to meet an evil situation that that nation had found itself embroiled in. My friends, these things ought no to be; His word is the lamp to our feet.

 W. J. Seaton

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