Hardened Spiritual Arteries
". . . Having their consciences seared as with a hot iron" (I Tim. 4:2). Paul used this expression to describe the hardened, calloused condition of the apostate. In contrast to the seared conscience, mature Christians "by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). "Hardening of the arteries" in the physical body can be a cause for real concern, and yet the flow of spiritual life can be almost cut off by an insensitive conscience and that very hardhearted condition will blind the sufferer to his danger.
For just a few moments, hold communion with the confines of your heart to determine if you have been "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). Are you sensitive to:
The gospel is God's power to save (Rom. 1:16). Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), the gospel is to be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15). Those who do not obey the gospel will be eternally punished (2 Thess. 1:8, 9). The man who believes these truths, cannot but strive mightily to reach the lost with the gospel. On the other hand, the man who thinks that some how and some way people who never hear and obey the gospel will be alright is a man who cannot effectively win souls. How could he? Secret scepticism has robbed his efforts of earnestness-if it has not totally sealed his lips. His very speculation flies in the face of scripture (see the above references). His very conjecture strips the Savior's great commission of its urgency (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15, 16).
Which man, in the paragraph above, are you? In which group can you be found? You say, "Oh, I believe the gospel is God's power to save, and therefore men have to obey it to be saved." Now, do you really believe that? Is that something said just with your lips, or is it affirmed also by your life. You know, faith in God is not just an intellectual process. That is why the inspired James hurled the following sharpened shaft of truth at those who had only a mental faith: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). I might say, "You believe the gospel is the power of God to save; you do well: now, how many have you tried to reach with the gospel?" Mental faith alone in the gospel as God's power to save, will not only fail to save you, but it will make it impossible for you to help save someone else. Consider the pale, passive, lifeless efforts at soul-winning that are characteristic of so many congregations and individual members and then hear James again: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." And here is the great tragedy: many of us have so seared our consciences and hardened our hearts that we are actually satisfied with our corpse-like efforts at reaching lost souls.
As evidence of the fact that many of us have closed our ears to the cries of the lost, I, out of a spirit of deep concern, offer the following symptoms for our prayerful consideration:
(1) The little personal work done by individual members. Why is it that in a congregation with a membership numbering several hundred only a dozen or so will meet together at a time designed and then go out for an evening of personal work? Why is it that only eight or ten members out of a congregation of two hundred and fifty members would take part in an evening of personal teaching on the very eve of a gospel meeting? Why is this? Aren't we hardened to the fact that we are not teaching the lost, many of whom are dying daily almost in the very shadow of our church buildings? The cases mentioned above are not hypothetical and they point up a condition that is fairly general. While many professed Christians are blinded by the false notion that soul saving is exclusively the work of a special clergy class, the early church is described like this: "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ . . . they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." (Acts 5 :42 ; 8 :4. )
(2) The poor quality of personal teaching done. Some members of the church have never experienced the thrill of patiently reading and studying God's Word with an individual -- maybe on several occasions - finally to have that one say at the end of a period of study, "I want to become a Christian." In contrast to this, some of these same members feel that they have "done their duty" after one brief rambling religious wrangle with a neighbor. Even some gospel preachers seem to do personal work by rote-listlessly with only a small fraction of the interest and enthusiasm they can generate in the pulpit. Could it be that even those of us who preach publicly fail, outside the pulpit (and maybe in it to display an unfeigned concern for lost souls?
(3) The unwillingness of Preachers to go to needy fields. The population of Texas is somewhere around 7,000,000. Picture if you will an area three times the size of Texas in population plus an extra Houston and an extra Dallas. Now imagine one gospel preacher working with this vast group of people. Sounds incredible doesn't it? It might surprise you to learn that this situation actually exists, for outside the U.S. there is approximately one gospel preacher for every 23 million people. However we do not have to go abroad to find large areas that, so far is the cause of truth is concerned, are virtually virgin frontiers. There are still large cities in the United States boasting populations of over 50 000 or 60,000, without a single congregation or gospel preacher. In the New Testament times, the most able, experienced preacher in the bretherhood was not to be found at home with an old or well established congregation. He was the one who could write, "Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation." (Rom. 15:20.) It is true that many men of real ability and experience are in the needy areas where Christians are few and the discouragements many, but-and I ask this sobering question respectfully and humbly where are the vast majority of the able, experienced preachers of the gospel today?
(4) The idea that only Preachers have the responsibility to go to the needy fields. Many seem to think that the great commission is for public preachers only, and they, therefore, feel no pang of conscience at their failure to make any real personal contribution to world evangelism. And sometimes brethren think that they have insured the successful establishment of a congregation in a new field by simply sending a preacher and his family to a place. If the preacher is able to survive the first few discouraging years, a congregation can be established; but how much better it is for several families to go together. Here is something that should be more common: There is not now a congregation in Eau Claire, Wis. (pop. 50,000). Five families-one a preacher, one a song leader who arranged for a transfer in his work, and three other men with their families -plan to go there and share in the thrilling experience of establishing a New Testament church!
Oh brethren, may we throw off our hardhearted ways, and pressed by a tender conscience, may we urgently warn lost souls of the wrath to come. But again, is your conscience sensitive to:
The church itself-the last stronghold of purity-stands dangerously close to moral apostasy. However, many of us, having fallen victim to the gradual, short-step method of Satan, are too blinded to see that even now the garments of the Bride carry in their borders the stench of the world and the filth of impenitent sinners.
Here's how that Satanic, short-step method works:
Little Johnny must develop physical co-ordination and social poise; so early in his school life he learns some very harmless looking folk dances and innocent-appearing square dances. Later, in Junior High, Johnny is still dancing and though he holds his partner a little different than he did in grade school, it still looks innocent enough to his parents. Still later, Johnny and the dance take another short step as Johnny begins to go to the high school dances. Even here, despite the sensually appealing music and movements, his parents, blinded by the devil's gradual art, defend Johnny with loud talk about "chaperones" and "well-lighted gyms" (which is, of course, an open admission of the danger). We could go another step to the dive beside the road where the honky-tonk music blares and the drink is sold and consumed freely. Remember that those who might be found dancing in such a place are not dancing their first dance. They got there by following Satan's short-step on a long journey. This will illustrate how long the journey can be: The Chicago vice commission interviewed 300 prostitute girls and asked, "What caused you to become what you are?" Eighty-five percent of them said, "The dance is the cause. My first wrong step was the dance." No wonder the Bible warns against the first short step with Satan. "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (I Thess. 5:22.)
Jesus calls us to moral purity. Our answer will involve pure speech in contrast to a world of verbal obscenity; modest dress (I Tim. 2:9) in contrast to neighborhoods filled with near nudity; chastity of thought and deed in contrast to a passion-crazed society.
Paul said, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11 ). It is not enough for the Christian to refrain from dancing, drinking, immodesty, cursing and all other works of darkness. He must not only have no fellowship in those things but he must reprove them. How we need to have our souls and lives searched by the words of inspiration in Eph. 5:11. Some very popular and influential members of the church who today are pursuing very questionable courses are defended on the basis that they do not actually personally participate in sinful practices. But remember, we do not always have to be an active participant in a sinful course to be wrong. We sin when we fail to "reprove them." Have we become so hardened and calloused that we cannot see compromise for what it is?
May we "by reason of use" develop our senses to discern both good and evil." Mav we ever be deeply sensitive to Jehovah's will and may we "exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you he hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb. 3:13.)
Truth Magazine II:11, pp. 1, 12-13