Friday, November 8, 2013


Jonathan Edwards

    In Matthew 22 we are told that Jesus was approached by one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, who asked Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" (vs. 35), the type of sharply analytical question one would expect a lawyer to ask. Jesus responded by referring him to two different commandments. The first one was part of the famous "Shema," the great creedal affirmation of the Jewish Torah: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (vs. 37; cf. Dt. 6:4,5). "This," said Jesus, "is the first and great commandment" (vs. 38). But then there was one other thing as well. "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (vs. 39). This commandment was also in the Torah, in Lev. 19:18. Jesus then added the comment, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (vs. 40).
    Here it will be observed that a personal relationship between God and His people is presupposed. He is "the Lord your God." (The word "your" is singular in the Hebrew, making it especially personal; cf. "thy God" in KJV). Furthermore, in this relationship we are to love Him, and love Him, moreover, "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." In other words, true religion is heart religion. It must include a strong personal attachment to God that involves our entire inward being.
    Furthermore, we have a duty toward our fellow man as well. We are to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Here we have stated for us in the simplest terms possible the "Golden Rule". Whatever we desire for ourselves, we should wish for others also. We should be willing to sacrifice our personal well-being for the sake of others in greater need than ourselves. These two commandments, then, sum up our whole duty toward both God and man.
    It will be noted in this connection that mere orthodoxy, by itself, is not enough. The demons believe that there is one God, and even tremble (Jas. 2:19), and yet they are not saved. Our aim rather ought to be to "know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. . ." (Phi l. 3:10). Moreover, we are to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (Jas. 1:22). We must not be content merely to recite doctrine, but to live it. To a great extent, then, the essence of true religion consists of experience and practice, and the great value of doctrine is found in its usefulness as a guide to the practical side of the Christian life.
    By the same token more than just a mere external observance of religious duties is required. We can be baptized, join a church, attend services regularly, and even tithe, and not be saved at all. We can even sing in the choir, teach a Sunday school class, and help out with the youth program, and yet not know Christ Himself. "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing" (I Cor. 13:3). In a word, if doctrine does not have a practical effect on our lives, then we have missed the whole point of Christianity.
    Our forefathers in the faith used to call this "experimental religion," that is, the actual experience of God's grace in our hearts and lives, as opposed to a merely speculative theology or sectarian dogma. It was the religion of the Puritans and the Scottish Covenanters in the seventeenth century, of the "New Light" Congregationalists and the "New Side" Presbyterians of the Great Awakening, of the Separate Baptists in the late eighteenth century and of the Methodists in the early nineteenth. It was the religion of the German Pietists and of the Moravian Brethren. Under it untold millions were converted and entire nations transformed. These various groups differed from each other, often sharply, over points of doctrine and church government, but they all agreed on this one fundamental point: " . . . I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I might gain Christ . . ." (Phil. 3:8).
    Today, however, this glorious heritage of ours has largely been forgotten. It has been nearly a century and a half since the United States experienced a nationwide revival, and the Modernist / Fundamentalist controversy of the 1920's and '30's left Evangelicalism orthodox but spiritually dead and powerless. "Standing for the truth" had come to take the place of practicing the truth, of actually knowing Christ in a personal way. Today we largely have "a form of godliness but deny its power" (II Tim. 3:5). Perhaps nowhere is the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern church seen more clearly than in the demise of the midweek prayer meeting. A lack of interest in prayer betrays a lack of interest in God Himself, and yet tragically this is precisely the situation today in church after church.
    Christians are concerned about trends in society today, and rightly so. Yet we will not make the impact on society we want until we first take stock of ourselves. We think we are "wealthy, and have need of nothing," yet, like the lukewarm church of Laodicea we are in fact "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. . ." (Rev. 3:17). Jesus stands (outside!) of the door of this church, and knocks. He waits for someone to hear His voice and open the door, so that He can come inside and dine with us (vs. 20). Let us open the door now, and restore our Savior to His rightful place within our hearts.
Adapted from Chapter 1 of The Road to Heaven: A Practical Guide to the Faith of Our Fathers, © 2004, by Robert W. Wheeler      

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