The poor fellow had enough. During his long haul in service life in the raw had clawed his soul. Naked death, blood and fear made up his daily existence. That was bad enough. But there was a deeper wound, more painful. He just could not take those buddies who drank and blasphemed in licentiousness. He had to get away.
He was in the throes of a real problem. God’s saving Spirit had made him sensitive to sin. He knew that in eating or drinking he was the Lord’s. But life is grim, dirty, dominated by sin. How could he live the godly life? For him living in the world equalled living like the world. He retreated. He escaped to a Trappist monastery. Shut up in silence he could walk with God. It was sweet to be alone with Jesus. And he actually thought he was glorifying God.
This isn’t fiction. Escapism is in the air. The natural associations of life appear so sinful that complete separation beckons as the only way to the godly life. At this point the Reformed view of life shows us the way. True godliness is not a matter of separation or isolation from life. Genuine piety is marked by naturalness, not by an artificial “spirituality” gained at the expense of splitting the spiritual apart from the natural in life. There is no escapism in Reformed piety. There is only heart-searching challenge. God’s freemen, born of the Spirit, bowing before the majesty of Divine Law, live in God’s world. Our High priest still prays, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Escape to the Inner Life
It is easier to let the world of natural associations lie in sin and withdraw to the sacredness of the soul life. Not a few Christians live this way. Walking with the Lord means pulling out of life’s currents and communing with Jesus alone on the shore. Bible reading, extreme introspection and the humming of hymn tunes mark the godly life of such individuals. The Christian life involves the soul, the feelings, the moods and the conscience of the person.
Obviously the Christian must nourish his soul. Times for devotional meditation and Bible reading are becoming acutely necessary in our fast age. But this withdrawal must not be an end in itself. The godly person must live in the world. In the social, political, and economic patterns of life he must bear clear witness. His fellowship in the inner sanctuaries must strengthen him for vigorous living in the midst of life. The godly person may not separate the inner from the outer life, the personal from the social and the natural from the spiritual. Genuine piety means a humble offensive in the midst of life. God does not call us to retreat into the fragile fortress of the soul. He calls us to stand in the middle of life. and having done all to stand.
Life’s Vocations on a Sliding Scale
Closely related to the temptation of retreat into the inner life is a confused evaluation of life’s callings. We hear much about “full-time kingdom service.” That is fine. All of life for the godly man is Kingdom life. But there is often something suspect about the manner in which some Christians speak of “full time kingdom service.” One wonders whether they aren’t working with a sliding scale in their evaluations of calling. They often have a hierarchy of vocations. The most spiritual callings are those dealing with human uplift. Here we find the missionary, the minister. social worker and Y.M.C.A. secretary. Next inline are the satisfactory vocations involving the lawyer, the broker. the advertising man and the salesman. Thereupon come the average callings of the bricklayer. carpenter and farmer. Dubious callings involve cab drivers, truck drivers and soda jockeys. Genuine kingdom service involve the people who work for human uplift. It seems that such callings are more “spiritual” and “holy.”
Here again one discerns a depreciation of the natural. Reading the Bible need not be more holy than turning a lathe. Praying in a sick room need not be more sanctified than drawing a malted milk at a soda bar. Operating with a hierarchy of vocations is anathema from the Reformed point of view. Whatever we do we must seek to live in the Biblical perspective of the called and the Caller. All of life is service within the framework of Christ’s Kingdom. Whatever is done must be done “for the sake of him who for our sakes died and rose again.” Calvin puts it well when he says. “If we follow our divine calling we shall receive this unique consolation that there is no work so mean and so sordid that does not look truly respectable and highly important in the sight of God” page 98. Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life.
Sacrifice for Its Own Sake
Some of God’s people are afraid to use the gifts of God. Knowing that some people make idols of their homes. they are afraid to enjoy living in a tastefully furnished house. They “sacrifice” and retain well worn rugs and threadbare chairs. The poor souls actually believe that it is more “holy” to do without than to enjoy such gifts. There is something pathetic about such an attitude. It involves fear for the natural. They have never understood that God gives these gifts to be used for his glory. Sacrifice is never an end in itself. In fact as soon as one sacrifices—in the sense of doing without something—for the sake of sacrifice, he is no longer actually sacrificing. Such action is in reality a method for the selfish satisfaction of man’s craving for security, praise, and approbation. It reminds one of the Pharisee who fasted for the sake of fasting, as if fasting were more godly than eating with thanksgiving. Those who do without in such a way are throwing God’s gifts back at him with the rebuke that they are too dangerous to enjoy.
It is true that we are only passing through this life. We are pilgrims. As such many occasions arise when we freemen of God choose to do without something for the sake of advancing the cause of God. Many sacrifices—more than many of us realize -are demanded of us every day. But let us not fall prey to the evil of devaluating the natural in the vain hope of then rightfully appraising the spiritual. The two belong together. Let not the pious man draw them asunder. As Calvin says, “Even if this earth is only a vestibule, we ought undoubtedly to make such a use of its blessings that we are assisted rather than delayed in our journey” (ibid, page 86). Such godly persons look for the city which hath foundations.
Philip and his Minister
Philip wanted to live according to the will of God. In every decision he desired certainty as to the will of God. When he went to buy a suit, he was convinced that God determined in a special way whether he should purchase a brown tweed or a black worsted. At the automobile showroom he wondered whether God wanted him to buy a two-tone green or a solid red. Every decision for Philip involved a grim choice between what God willed and what God forbade.
Let’s not proudly smile down on him. Rather let us admire his deep concern. We live “coram Deo.” But Philip is confused. He splits the natural and the spiritual. Personal tastes and aesthetic preferences of the person are not destroyed by the working of God’s Spirit. God does not negate the natural. He recreates it.
Surely the choice of suits and cars is connected with our relationship to God’s Kingdom. But the normal personal tastes of the person are not so destroyed that we need to determine by special prayer what God wants and what he forbids.
Of course, God’s revealed will has much to say about buying clothes, cars and homes. There are such teachings as those governing Christian stewardship. There is the matter of proper motivation. But whether one wants picture windows or not, Plymouths or Pontiacs, is determined by the natural preferences of the Christian. Since man’s natural preferences are part of God’s creation, we may not destroy them by seeking “higher and holier” standards. It is as sinful to add to God’s Word as it is to detract from it.
Philip’s minister makes the same mistake. He uses a “preek tone.” He correctly believes God’s Word to be holy. But he is wrong in thinking that there are “holy” tones and “spiritual” inflections. Artificial unctious expressions, rhythmic cadences and “sacred” intonations are a denial of God’s natural gifts of speech. Both Philip and his minister forget that God wants the godly man to spiritualize the nature and naturalize the spiritual. God’s children live in rapport with God’s word.
In But Not Of The World
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Thus our Lord confronts us in the natural as well as the spiritual with his call to consecration. It may be more comfortable for the moment to withdraw, but it certainly isn’t more godly. The genuine child of God swims in the currents of life. There his strength is the Lord and the power of his might. There God calls man to surrender to the rule of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
There is boldness in the heart of the godly man. He is unashamed of his Lord. All of life belongs to him. This he lives, and this he tells to others. The sinner in rebellion will call him proud. Of course, any excuse will be offered in the attempt to hold down the truth in unrighteousness. But the Christian knows that bringing every thought and every theater of human action into the service of Christ is the task of all men. So he goes out into life’s complexities there to live in the spirit of “from Him, through Him and unto Him are all things.”
This is dangerous living for the godly man. The genuinely pious person lives in the daily consciousness of his sin. He is humble enough to admit that he has only a very small beginning of true obedience. Living in the light of the Word he realizes that his old nature still leans toward the world. As such he constantly prays, “Let not my enemies triumph over me.” He understands what Paul means when he says, “He that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Thus he goes forth not in his own strength of character, of intellect, of intention or purpose. With his eye of faith fixed on the “author and finisher of our faith,” he goes forth into life confident that his Lord will give him the victory through faith. Thus his boldness is the humble boldness of faith. In faith he lives in but not of the world.