The Way of God and the Ways of Men
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house…. But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (Hebrews 3:1-2,6)
This passage of scripture has been resting strongly on my mind. “Christ as a son over his own house.” I wish to state that my Lord is wonderfully competent and capable as the head of His spiritual house. When we realize the awful damage that sin and error have done to the people unto whom His salvation is proffered, when our reaction is such as is related in Matthew 13:27, then it is a great comfort and guidance to look to Jesus, the Head of the house, for direction and strength. He already knows what we have discovered. He already knows what to do with what we are just starting to grapple with. Ah, “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus!”
We are not alone, nor are we in a position of bringing Jesus in on things previously unsuspected by Him. Before Jesus saved us from the kingdom of darkness and regenerated our hearts, He knew what we would face before He sent us out in His work. “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them.” (John 10:4)
Down through the ages of time since the New Testament was instituted, devout men and women have been bringing serious and baffling, seemingly impenetrable situations to the Master for resolution. It is the first thing to do when difficulties arise. We go to Jesus in faith, believing (knowing) that He has the needed answer. He never fails us. What a Master of His house is He!
Now “every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood.” (Isaiah 9:5) All appears overwhelming until we plainly see and “hear the voice of our Commander standing firm.”* That clarity is the essential thing. Where Jesus is standing is where we must rally.
The gospel that has prevailed with you and me was deeply and thoroughly prepared by the hand of God for overthrowing the works of the devil in the hearts of weak, sinful man. It is the mighty power of God unto salvation, and when it is preached and held in the wisdom and power which God gives, it will bring the willing to the cross and draw a clear line of separation between the pure and the vile. If it is preached in the wisdom of man, it will make the cross of none effect (1 Corinthians 1:17). This last statement should strike a chord of horror in your heart and mine; for the entire Old Testament devotes volumes of documentation to the futility of attempting to serve God as He requires without the effect of the cross in the heart. In the end, all of the precious testimonies of Old Testament saints come down to this: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) We gaze in amazement. Some of these brethren were as dedicated, careful, disciplined, knowledgeable, faithful, and full of love to God as much as anyone has been or could be by human effort; yet “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist].” (Matthew 11:11) Such is the superiority of the work of the cross in the heart.
Here then is the ancient landmark laid by the Master Surveyor. Here is where the Holy Ghost leads us. “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:2-3) This confession is not one of the lips alone, but a confession of the entire life. If one has been changed into a new creature in Christ Jesus, the deeds, the words, the thoughts—everything makes confession. “Behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus is come into the flesh of a man, and it shows everywhere in that man; not just the man’s asserted will shall manifest it, but the abiding presence will manifest itself involuntarily, as well. The entire outflow of the life is radically changed. And I say radically, even if the man was a temperate, disciplined, careful, moral, trained man (like the best of the Old Testament saints). Even such a man is radically changed by the work of the cross in his heart. You might say, “Well, so-and-so did not leave any great sins to serve Jesus, as he lived a pretty good life before.” And I would reply, “Yes, but the motivation for doing that which is right is totally changed.” And I would add that all the potential for unrighteous living was in the unregenerated motivations before, although restrained by better influences, etc. There is an enormous difference in any man or woman when Christ enters their flesh. Now to this point, I assert that the united voice of the writings of the New Testament do solemnly agree. It is the great practical difference between the better testament and the old. It is why our Lord so patiently suffered, that grace may abound in the heart to this extent.
Now all compromise is an attempt by the devil to obscure and confuse and make fuzzy the line of demarcation between right and wrong, especially between genuine, pure-heart motivation and mere human nobleness, and thus to hide and conceal real deliverance. The enemy of God and man endeavors to sidetrack much of the gospel in the battlefield of the hearts and minds of men. The devil would divert the energies of man into trying his best, instead of seeing what God has for him. Then with some, he produces the idea of an effortless salvation in which Christ has done everything and man has nothing to do. Then again, with others, he would sell the concept that man must stretch and strain to the uttermost to be saved. This last invariably leads to a religious profession of works and possibly fanaticism. In all these attacks against truth, the truth about the work of the cross, both God’s part and man’s part, is hidden from the eyes of those who need it so much.
Satan labors endlessly to obscure human vision of the works of grace. He wants us unsure and hesitant of the differences, mixing the attributes of good character and fleshly nobility with the effect of Holy Spirit purifying and qualifying. He uses to advantage the many, many ways of mankind which we continually discover. In discerning the difference between a work wrought of God in the heart and one that arises otherwise, the first step is to be led into an upper room yourself, and there made white and purified as only God can do. The best way to prove a counterfeit is to compare it to the genuine; confusion comes by comparing a counterfeit with a counterfeit.
It is your flesh that must be put to death. Christ must come into you before you can help others that He may come in them. We cannot help people to go higher than we are living. When grace is prevailing in you, and you are hourly keeping victory by yielding, watching, and trusting, then you will know better what to watch for in others. They are different than you? Of course, but the differences in personality, thinking, etc., that are so characteristic of people, do not matter much when people are head over heels in love with Jesus, obedient to Him, and pliable in His hands. The gospel goes far beneath the personality level in mankind. The disciples in the New Testament were tugged to and fro by their differences before Pentecost; Peter with his impulsiveness, Thomas with his cynicism and doubting, the aggressively ambitious versus the more complacent, the wise money managers versus the less careful, etc. These characteristics were still there after the filling and subsequent indwelling, but how submerged! How insignificant! Having experienced the profound workings of God deep in themselves, they were focused on pointing everyone to the same great fountain, being deeply convicted that nothing else would do.
It was the example of Jesus that reached them first. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” (Hebrews 3:1) “We see Jesus.” (Hebrews 2:9) “They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) This pure and holy Example, the only pure-hearted man in the world at the time He was with them, left an indelible impression on them all. They left all to follow Him and to be with Him. They tried with all that was within them to measure to His pure standard in all things. He continually corrected and reproved them as they came short. “They went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:52-55) It would be wrong to think that James and John were bloodthirsty (and it would be wrong to think that Elijah was bloodthirsty on this occasion in his day). Perhaps we could surmise their thoughts in this way: they knew God brought judgment on men for their actions, and that these judgments stirred other men and advanced the gospel. They knew that under certain circumstances they should stamp the dust of the ground from their feet and leave people without the gospel. They were uncertain. They needed much more than they had. They knew some things, but did not know how or when to apply what they knew. They knew enough on this occasion to ask Jesus, but not enough to escape rebuke. It is noteworthy that this kind of question did not occur after Pentecost. Something helped them to be on target after that.
The whole thing comes down to man doing his best to please Jesus with the best a man can offer of himself as compared to something working in a man—something given sweeping freedom by the man thus imbued to do as He will—an anointing which knows the way perfectly and is able to guide and bring to remembrance as needed. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) How powerfully the words of the disciples apply!—“What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (John 6:28) Many are doing their best to work the works of God, but the actual working of the works of God escapes them. Their efforts prove to be something else. The works of God can only be truly worked by God Himself working, using inadequate human earthen vessels as He pleases. “The God of peace…make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.” (Hebrews 13:20-21) The works of God are characterized by a great lack of human reasoning and wisdom.
We want to now consider Jesus as related in the seventh chapter of John. Here is recorded a great friction between Jesus and his brothers at home in Galilee. They were urging upon Him a certain course of action: his attendance at the feast of tabernacles in Judea. And their motivation was human wisdom and expediency. They did not believe in Him, but they recognized that others did, and they felt that they knew and understood what was necessary for His efforts to be successful. “For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.” (John 7:4) This is a bit of human philosophy that we might paraphrase like this: Your efforts are nourished and sustained by your physical presence. You cannot hide out and expect your influence to grow. Any politician will readily recognize and value this principle. But Jesus did not, and He did not in a way that flat out contradicted what seemed like common sense to his brothers. He said in effect, “I am different from you. My kingdom is not of this world, else would My disciples fight. I represent an appeal that goes beyond the natural influence of man and operates with entirely different rules and principles. Its timing is different, too. It is so different, so alien, from the ways of men that the world hates Me” (John 7:6-9).
A minister told me once that the minister meetings of God’s people appeared no different from the minister meetings of different sectarian organizations. This man was a sectarian himself, who had long looked at the work of God through the prism of human reasoning; and his statement was true in only the most superficial manner. The people of both sit in seats with a chairman and conduct discussions. They reach conclusions or fail to do so, etc. They approve or censure. Such a viewpoint is shallow. If people are profoundly different at the heart level, those differences will show.
Another man that I knew was of the opinion that he understood what a Christian minister was all about. He greeted me and demonstrated his supposed empathy by stating, “Well, I suppose that you have been busy meeting other pastors and preaching in their pulpits to many people.” This was stated with a kind of knowing look which rapidly changed to a certain degree of consternation as I simply told him, “Well, no. I am not interested in that.” He could hardly conceive of a professed minister that was not ambitious and zealous to advance influence. The idea of a servant who runs not ahead of God or lags behind was a different world to him, as was this characterization: “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
Now this great friction is just as great between those led by the Spirit of God and between those who are not. It is most visible when contrasted with the unsaved versus those filled with the Holy Spirit, but it exists between lean, lukewarm children of God and those who are prayed up. It is a primary difference between the justified and the entirely sanctified. It is the measurement of those who lean too much to their understanding versus the entirely surrendered.
We find it in Peter when he awoke to an amazing and overwhelming sight: the transfigured Christ and the glorious figures of Moses and Elijah. And so he started to get into trouble, “for he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.” (Mark 9:6) A lot of people propose things under the influence of fear and ignorance that prove out to be a mistake, and Peter did, too. Here is his proposal. “Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” (Mark 9:5) How ashamed Peter must have been of this later! How thankful he must have been that the voice from heaven reproved his folly! What a mess of confusion and trouble the actual construction and institution of these three proposed tabernacles would have been!
The ways of God are fundamentally different from the best conceptions of mankind. There are many things that people cannot change, so we accommodate or bear; but with God, nothing is impossible. He is able to do more than we can ask or think; He has a way through all the tangled and unmanageable elements and effects of human nature. He knows what He is doing and can do. We need to trust Him with all of our heart and cling to His revealed ways with all our strength.
The story is told of a pastor, one of the Lord’s pastors, who was approached by a Sunday School teacher in the congregation. She had been gathering influence with different ones to bring about certain changes that she cherished—changes contrary to sound doctrine and at variance with what God had given the pastor. When she approached the pastor, she felt her “political” support was so substantial that he could not ignore it, and she felt that she had finally achieved the leverage necessary to bring about the changes she desired. So she said that she would resign her teaching position if he did not go along with what she wanted. He looked her right in the eye and stated that he accepted her resignation, accepting right with it all damage and repercussions that came with staying true to God at all costs.
Many think we must so temper the gospel as to preserve peace in the church, notwithstanding her sin and idols. But, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth [peace with sin]? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) So answers the Lord. His “fan is in his hand,” (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17) and he would rather blow the church to atoms and secure a little clean wheat by itself than see it prosper in peace and multitudes and under mortgage to Satan, and bearing his brand mark, i.e., spots of sin.
[Daniel S. Warner, quoted in Birth of a Reformation, by Andrew L. Byers]
Some may think that the pastor mentioned above should have not tolerated the Sunday School teacher progressing to the point that she did, but the pastor (did we not say that he was the Lord’s?) was on solid Bible grounds in waiting on God’s time. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) The pastor never partook of her sin, and he held up truth and deliverance all along as the Lord gave him utterance. And in God’s time, He took care of His pastor’s problem; and His time is always best.
The passage of scripture in John 7 reveals a profound gulf between ordinary human thinking (the brothers of Jesus, the Pharisees, and other Jews) and the chief Shepherd and His sheep. It explains why the ordinary run of religious mankind actually despised and rejected the Lord. They did not like Him; He did not fit with them and what they accepted as right, and they did not comprehend Him, and He seemed suspicious and strange to them. A great deal of His mission was completely incomprehensible to them. They did not understand and could not understand nor fathom what He was about and what He was. Many do not realize that the ways of God reject the natural, unguided ways of mankind just as instinctively as the ways of the flesh reject the ways of God. “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:14-15)
I will assert right here that the ways of God are just as alien to the unregenerated heart (and are seen through a veil darkly by the unsanctified) as they were when Jesus walked the earth in bodily form.
The usual pattern is as follows: men encounter the working of God, whether through His children, His prophets, or His Son. It does not fit with their way of thinking, so they doubt it and end up rejecting it. Time passes. A new generation arises that puts the work of God, previously rejected by their forefathers, on a pedestal. They profess to admire it (for it is now before their time, and they do not have to face the consequences of it directly). Then God deals with that generation, and they do as their fathers did, for they, too, have not the Spirit of God or a desire to follow Him. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.” (Matthew 23:29-32) Note that the very people who flattered themselves that they would not have been partakers with the ungodly deeds of their father were the very ones who rejected and crucified the Son of Glory.
This is unsubdued man at work. Reasoning, justifying, supposing, proud and stiff-necked, willful, arrogant, and largely oblivious to true religion and the real work of God. They are doing as their fathers did to the gospel because they are of their fathers, and the works of their fathers they will do.
Now before this, we will put the surrendered man, the broken man, the man that has come to the cross. Here is the man that has beat his breast before God and sued for mercy. Here is he who has forsaken the excuses and the wisdom of this world. Here is the man who has given up and become still, whom the Lord has taken and purified and made white. Now he sees God and sees there is nothing else worth seeing. He sees Jesus and is deeply convicted that this is the only way: the one Mediator between God and man, the one hope, the only thing that will work and do the job acceptably of bringing man back to God. And he sees his great, great need as a human being. How easily he can be led astray! How easily he can mistake a voice of the foe for the voice of the Son of God! How easily he can reach forth and grasp the reins! How necessary to be hid away! How vital to be totally cast on the Lord, taught and led by Him! And thus he sees Jesus in His humanity: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) God has designed a way through for the man in the flesh. He must humble himself and become obedient unto death with all it entails. The waiting and the “O Lord God, thou knowest.” (Ezekiel 37:3) Thus the Lord teaches all who will follow Him all the way that they must be prostrate in the dust, that they will stay with God by careful obedience and “strong crying and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7) He will guide them with His eye; He will be their God and they shall be His people.
Now we would charge all to acknowledge that if we have received the gospel only by flesh and blood, then we are not fit or qualified to do the work of God. It is only when Christ has entered and is given full sway and charge within our flesh that we have the very first beginnings of qualifications to do the work of God under the direction of the Spirit of God.
One of the effects of this complete and acceptable surrender is to realize that God has a great deal of activity going on. Luke wrote, “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:49-50) Mark tells it thus: “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” (Mark 9:38-40) The key to understanding aright is that these parties were doing things “in thy name.” That is, they had received the true spirit of Christ, and without meeting Him in the flesh or physically standing in meetings with His disciples who were physically in company with Him, they were with Him in spirit even though they did not know Him otherwise. The invisible bond that circles heaven’s family and the family of God on earth included them. The spirit of unity prevailed although they understood not many things. “He cannot lightly speak evil of me.” No sectarian walls or group loyalties divided them. God could easily move them together or work them apart as seemed best to Him. In the eyes of God, this unity far exceeds the union of common creed and discipline. “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19-20) This is the language of humility, surrender to, and absolute trust in God. It was answered thus: “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Luke 7:22-23) There is no negotiating or need for great diplomacy; the validity of the fruit tells all. That Jesus recognized and thought highly of God’s work in the vessel of John the Baptist is evident in the next verses.
There are many fine people, even noble, with an abundance of merit in character who are not fit for the kingdom of heaven. In Acts 13:50-51, “The Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them.” In spite of all their fine qualities, they were not in the Vine and destined to end up as described in Matthew 7:21-23 if they did not get regenerated. In John 7, we notice how little a distance separated them from truth, but it was not in them to cover that distance. The picture is from the Jewish feast of tabernacles, and the people were expecting Jesus to be there. He did not go up openly, i.e., as a celebrity, but privately and quietly. There was much confusion about Him. “And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.” (John 7:12) It is the same today. There must be a gut honesty and an unwillingness to settle for anything less than truth to find and hold truth. Most people stop just a little short, and thus it proved to be the case with most of the religious cream-of-the-crop at this national gathering. “Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:40-42) The surface appearance of Jesus was that He was a Galilean prophet. It required an investigation and pursuit of truth to find out that He was born in Bethlehem and of the lineage of David. We see the difference in John 1:46: “And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.” Here Nathanael was honestly troubled by the same question. He, too, knew that Nazareth (or Galilee) was not the scripturally accurate location of the promised Messiah. But there was a big difference between Nathanael and those at the feast who were put off by the same question. Philip told Nathanael, “Come and see,” and Nathanael made it his business to come, and Jesus saw to it that he saw. The fig tree insight convinced him. Jesus is able to convince anyone who is willing to keep looking of just what the truth is. He can settle all doubts.
Men have their ruts. They reason that God will only work a certain way, then they settle into these beliefs, fortifying, reassuring themselves, and these creeds become prisons to them, effectively screening off truth from their eyes. They become bigots; an ugly word, which means “one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.” The word is taken from a French expression, bi got, which means “by God”—that is, one who knows the mind of God and speaks for Him. This is human arrogance indeed, but it seems reasonable and compelling to those who believe in the tradition. So men have their ways, and the consequences of their ways hinder them from finding the real facts most effectively.
We see the prejudices at work at the Feast of Tabernacles. “Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:14-15) Jesus had not come up through their system. He had not earned their titles or praise. He was the embodiment of a divine system from God—a stone “cut out of the mountain without hands.” (Daniel 2:45) It was and is vastly superior to the best of men’s efforts, but this was hidden from the eyes of those who had partaken of the religious system that purported to be the truth. Here was a contradiction which they could not escape. They wondered at the gracious words that came from the mouth of the Lord. They could not account for it. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22) “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?” (Matthew13:54-56) We see how thoroughly the idea had taken hold that God only really blessed through their system (which was founded “in the fear of God,” of course!), and they were amazed when forced to confront the solemn reality that God was not confined to work as they thought best. In fact, He would and did bypass them entirely if He wished, and their proud religion was full of the inconsistencies that always arise when God is not leading and people are building. Of course it did not make sense when viewed by only human reasoning! It was the wisdom that descends from above, and it is still descending from above on all who will break with everything else and pursue God and His ways with all their heart. It grew up “as a root out of dry ground.” (Isaiah 53:2) By all natural laws and human ways, this is not possible. There is nothing to nourish the root—the ground is dry. Mary was a good woman, although she was (falsely) suspected by many of a past act of immorality. But there was nothing to explain what Jesus was and how He spake by looking at His mother. Joseph was a good man, but again, nothing accounted for the reality of Jesus there. Nor did his brothers or sisters appear extraordinary. It was deeper than that. It could only be found by “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee.” (Matthew 16:17) “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)