Signs Along the Way
Many people die every year of diseases which might be cured if discovered in their incipiency. In like manner, there are hundreds of people in the church who are on their way to eternal damnation, who might be saved if they could be made to recognize the danger that threatens them. Apostasy, like disease of the body, casts its ugly shadow, and the discerning eye can see the signs and symptoms.
One symptom is lack of spiritual appetite. How is your appetite for spiritual things? Peter said, "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2). Paul said to the Corinthians, "I have fed you with milk and not with meat: For hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." These Corinthians had come out of heathenism but a short time ago, and here the apostle implies that they should be able to eat meat. But they were not able. Their spiritual digestive powers still called for milk. Pause here and ask yourself the honest question' "Has my desire for spiritual food increased since I became a Christian?" If the answer is "no," then you have started in the other direction, because there is no such thing as "holding our own" spiritually. The only man mentioned in the Bible as holding his own went to hell for it. This was the one talent man. The Christian life is like a bicycle, either you move ahead or you fall over. The Hebrew Christians had been in the church long enough that they should have been teachers, but they needed to be taught again the first principles. They were not as well off as when they first obeyed the gospel. I am told that a wasp is larger when he is hatched than at any other time. As a rule a newborn babe in Christ is anxious to learn the Bible. He is an enthusiastic student. But as time goes by and he learns that there is no short cut, or royal road, to real Bible knowledge but that it takes a lot of time and study, he often loses his enthusiasm. Most churches have classes on the Lord's day and some through the week. It has been my experience that not more than two-thirds of the members attend these classes. If admonished to attend, this one who does not attend has an excuse. As a rule these excuses can be exposed as worthless alibis, trumped up after he decides not to attend the classes. He is trying to quiet an uneasy conscience. He cannot let himself be truthful and say, "I simply do not care to attend these classes. I prefer to watch television." This fellow may not know it, but he is on his way back to the beggerly elements of the world. A person need not tell me, with a straight face, that he loves the Lord and desires to "grow in grace and in knowledge of the truth," when he spends more time reading the sports page than he spends reading the Bible.
David said of the man in the first Psalm, "But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate day and night." He does not read the Bible day and night, but he thinks of what he has read- frequently. The law of the Lord is uppermost in his mind. I came upon a brother one day who was hoeing his garden. When we had exchanged greetings, the next thing he said was, "I was just thinking of a new argument on Mark 16:16." He has forgotten more than some ever will learn about the Bible, but he still has a voracious appetite for knowledge of the truth.
Another common and very noticeable symptom of apostasy in the Christian is his aversion to plain gospel preaching. In preachers this symptom first shows in an overweening sweetness, flavored with a few snide remarks about those who lack the "spirit of Christ." In the second stage, he starts talking and writing about negative preaching, and laments the "sectarian bigotry" among some brethren. Then in the last stage, he has lifted up, his eyes to horizons for beyond the wildest imaginations of his less spiritual brethren, and his "love" has outgrown a legalistic interpretation of the scriptures or concept of the church that would exclude from his fellowship that great host of God-fearing people who cannot trim their faith to "our" view of Christianity. He has now "arrived." If you know such a preacher, take a good look at him. He will not be around long. He has outgrown the New Testament plea.
When a member of the church begins to talk about how sweet and broad minded some preacher is and how the church has just grown in leaps and bounds where he is preaching, I know what is coming next. He is about to begin to give me some advice on how to preach. He thinks the truth ought to be preached by all means. Certainly so. But he thinks there is a right way to preach it. Perhaps I preached that mixed bathing, wearing shorts, and dancing were wrong because they are productive of lasciviousness; that members of the Lord's church ought not to take even a social drink. He thinks these might be wrong; but he knows some people who are doing things worse than these, and I might well spend my time preaching on love and be more of a "positive" preacher, not so against everything.
But if the plain preaching of Bible truth offends you, then it is you that needs change, not the preacher. "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith."
Truth Magazine XXI: 24, p. 370