A Great Light
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Perfect Light—Complete Understanding
There is a place where perfect understanding abounds. Of this place and of the Perfect Being who abides in that place, we read, “The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16) This has direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in all His resurrected glory. It is in the sense of His resurrection that He alone has immortality, being the firstfruits of them that sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). We who are yet alive in the flesh and those who have already died have yet to obtain the immortality that comes with the general resurrection, whereas our Lord has already obtained it. He dwells now (and has before) in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see. No man has entered into heaven, yet. All the dead have entered into Hades, the world of departed spirits. This world consists of two parts, separated by a great gulf. Those two parts are Paradise and Torment. All departed spirits of men are in one place or the other. The Lord Jesus abode there as His earthly body lay in the tomb, but when He was resurrected on Easter morning, His soul left Paradise and was reunited with His glorified, resurrected body. After some days of being here on earth as the first fruit of the coming general resurrection, He ascended into heaven to that light which no man can approach unto (yet) and which no man can see and hath seen (yet). He went to prepare a place for us that love Him and His light and truth. We have foretastes of that wonderful place down here, but the glory and magnitude of that place far excels anything we experience down here where we see through a glass, darkly; but then, face to face. That place is filled with the glory of God experienced by Moses in the sacred mount, and although he was somewhat shielded from the full effect of being near God’s glory, even that foretaste was so glorious that other humans could not look upon the face of Moses unveiled when he returned from the presence of God.
“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) The most advanced understanding, the highest wisdom that man has been able to obtain, cannot hold a candle to the matchless, marvelous light of the Creator in heaven. All of this perfection is dimly reflected to men in the way in which God has made the earth and designed the boundaries of man. Isaiah caught a glimpse of the glory and majesty of the Most High when he was allowed to see the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. There he saw the seraphims and heard them cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) This was shortly after king Uzziah’s trespass and consequent judgment, a time of consternation and trouble, but Brother Isaiah was given light from heaven to guide him, to comfort him, and to assure him of the truth (Isaiah 6:1-3). How much we need the same in the time in which we live! May it be with each of us, dear reader, that the God of heaven would help us, as He helped Daniel, the angel saying, “O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.” (Daniel 9:22-23)
In 1 John 1:6, we read, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” No man can serve the Lord in an acceptable way if he has not light and walks not in the light, but walks in darkness. If you are walking in darkness and professing to serve God, you lie. And then we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) This scripture speaks with great authority. Without the least hesitation, we can say that no one will get to heaven who does not walk in the light of Jesus. All wishful thinking, all hopeful thinking, that is not solidly founded on walking in God’s light will prove to be an illusion, a fantasy, a pretending, a delusion. It is climbing up another way (John 10:1), and it is doomed.
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”*
There are two very important points to this walking in the light. The first is a matter of personal integrity. The second is a matter of the validity of the light that a person has. Even if a man has no valid light from heaven, his responsibility is fixed by what he does have. If he trifles with the light he has, he damages something in his soul. As one brother put it, “If a man does not live up to the light he possesses, then what chance does he have?” And again, “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” (Romans 14:22) Beware of that cynicism and the results from it that say, “I can’t be sure of anything. So what does it matter how conscientious I am?”
But the second point is equally important. The text says, “as He is in the light.” It is not just any old light (understanding); it is the same light from heaven in which our Lord both walked and does walk. If I carefully live up to the wrong thing, I do not get the benefit of walking in the right thing; I am not blessed or delivered by my conscientiousness with the benefits of light from heaven. The person that really believes in sacrificing their child to an idol certainly receives no true spiritual benefit for their integrity to their belief. The nature of the light is all important.
It is light from heaven, the marvelous mercy of God that reveals the blood of Christ offered as a sacrifice for us, and it is light from heaven that strives with our hearts to bring us to godly sorrow and repentance not to be repented of. It is light from the glory world that teaches us restitution and an abhorrence of our sinful selves, that brings us to the fountain opened in the House of God for sin and all uncleanness. Yea, the Holy Ghost comes and reproves the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). He casts light on our darkened minds and hearts of the nature of our condemnation, and of the nature of what God requires of us, until we cry, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) And then He gives answer, the only answer, that leads to forgiveness, life, and peace.
Without Light from Heaven, Man Is a Spiritual Idiot
When Brother Paul was writing to the congregation in Corinth, he emphasized this truth to them in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” And in verse 12, he said, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12) Many people there were carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1), and their carnality manifested itself in leaning to their own understanding, instead of being enlightened by the Spirit of God. They knew things, but they did not know them as they should have known them (1 Corinthians 8:2). They were not enlightened with light from God. When God enlightens us, He gives us more than just a certain amount of knowledge; He gives us the whole package that comes with the knowledge. This includes a great deal of charity and grace. All that comes with the enlightenment is part of the whole. To know things without that which must come with it is to receive something that is dangerous. It can puff you up; it can leave you resentful or prejudiced.
There are a lot of people who know something about spiritual things, but they do not know them as God would have them know them. God looks at the whole picture, and He sees the inadequacy there. Of such people were the folks at Laodicea. Their lukewarmness had brought them to a fearful state of complacency. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked….” (Revelation 3:17) Many essentials of light from heaven were missing in their lives. What they had was marred by what they didn’t have. Many people are saying that they are rich—and they are, but they are not rich enough. It takes a lot of grace to live up to a spiritual heritage. Many people are in the position of living in a huge castle, which is their heritage, so to speak, but they cannot afford what they have. If you live in a castle, you need a castle’s income to properly keep up the place. If you have a heritage of true spiritual living, revealed by God to those before you, then you need a lot of grace (like they had) to live up to those things. It is a terrible thing to say, “Well, we have the truth,” and only have the outline of truth. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
To be illuminated as you must needs be illuminated to live acceptably to God, you must be willing to completely humble yourself before the Almighty, confessing your need that you are able to see and praying the prayer of David, “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14) It is appropriate and altogether fitting for us to pray this prayer and have this attitude. Only He who dwelleth in the perfect light is able to establish us in His light.
The word idiotes is frequently used by the Holy Ghost to describe those who are uninitiated into the mysteries of godliness. You will find this word in 1 Corinthians 14:16,23,24, etc., and frequently elsewhere. In the King James version, it is generally translated unlearned, a soul untaught these mysteries by the Holy Ghost. Did you know that all religion is called mystery in the Bible? These mysteries are the work of the Holy Ghost in the internal transformation of the soul which takes place in regeneration, by which the life of God lost in the fall is restored to your soul. And sanctification, by which the sin-principle—Adam the first—is utterly exterminated and taken away. These are the works of God wrought in our souls by the Holy Ghost. The man who has not received them, the Holy Ghost calls an idiot. You see, the Greek word for idiotes is not translated, because it has been transferred to our language. So you have now ascertained that our word idiot is a pure Greek word. So you see that God calls every person an idiot with reference to regeneration, who has not received it. God only reveals His mysteries to those who receive them. Could you see the countless hosts of poor, guilty humanity this day following the devil’s idiots and plunging into hell, your blood would run chill. Remember; we don’t mean an intellectual idiot. You may be an intellectual Solomon, and at the same time, a spiritual idiot. The Bible is not an intellectual book. Hence, you never can know it by your intellect. It is a spiritual book. The spirit of the unregenerate is dead (Ephesians 2:1). Hence, he knows no more about the mysteries of salvation, namely, regeneration and sanctification, than the corpse lying in his grave. I have often listened to powerful preachers, swaying the multitude by their learned eloquence, laying under contribution all their powers of mind and body, to prove to the people that there was no such a thing as Holy Ghost religion…. What an awful sight! A house crowded with idiots, and an idiot in the pulpit poking upon the poor, idiotic people…. Holy Ghost religion is the only remedy for these foolish heresies. How long, O God, shall false prophets, idiots as to the plan of salvation, lead the guilty millions through the churches to hell? The man unregenerated by the Holy Ghost is pronounced by the Almighty an utter idiot as to God’s salvation. Great God, deliver us from unregenerated idiots, who by their intellect, learning and eloquence, lead great audiences of idiots through their churches to the bottomless pit.
[William Godbey; Holiness or Hell, “adapted with changes to grammar and punctuation”]
If we are willing to become a teachable idiot, there is hope for us. For unlike the poor feeble-minded individual who is unable to learn, we are able to receive the ways of God if we will humble our heart in turning away from everything else (especially including our own understanding [Proverbs 3:5-7]), that “we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Cor. 2:12)
Everyone Receives Some Light from God
“In him [God] was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:4-5,9)
These are solemn words indeed. God has taken upon Himself to light every man that cometh into the world. Again, we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20) Consider, O reader, the weighty import of these words. God has shown things to man; God has revealed things to man, and He has done it in such a way that it is clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. And this is done in such a way that all mankind, including you and me, are without excuse. If it were not for God’s revealing and showing, we would be in darkness and comprehend not the light, but God is faithful and deals with everyone sufficiently to fix responsibility.
Light from God lays each of us under serious obligation. Just as children pretend they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear, men react to the light of God with pretended incomprehension, but He who shows is also He who knows. Deep in the heart of each man is a place where sufficient comprehension is brought about that the Bible describes it as clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. A refusal to think about something fixes responsibility. A brother, who was so impressed by truth that he had heard, said to a co-worker on the job, “I wish you could have heard what I heard last night—it would have made you think!” His co-worker replied, “I don’t want to think.” This man did not want further obligation, but his lack of interest will do him no good in the final judgment, for his turning away from thinking leaves him with no excuse. God caused him to hear what the saved man said. God exposed him to that much light….
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” (John 15:22)
It is not a question of whether we have light, or even sufficient light. The question is, what are we doing with the light we have? How have you acknowledged (confessed) what you know is right and what you know is wrong?
God’s Purpose in Revealing Light
We read a wonderful story of how God intended for things to work between Him and His creation in Genesis 2:18-25. First we see that God knew perfectly what Adam (His first created human being) needed. God was not experimenting with Adam. Nor was He simply imposing what Adam needed upon him. God wanted a partnership, a covenant, with man. God wanted man to voluntarily respond to Himself. The need at hand was Adam’s need for a help meet, i. e., a suitable and appropriate companion for him. God knew he needed a companion. God knew that it was not good for the man to be alone. This knowledge is perfect light, but God was not satisfied to keep it to Himself. God wanted to reveal this wonderful understanding to Adam. God wanted to cast light on Adam’s pathway. So how did God go about it? “And out of the ground, the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them.” (Genesis 2:19) We next read how Adam named each of these creatures, “but for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him.” We see that God has designed a relationship with man and God to be participatory; we are workers together with God. After God’s revealing to Adam that there was nothing in creation (so far) that was satisfactory to the need, then God proceeded to show Adam that God could and would make exactly what he needed. And thus we see that God designed a lesson in faith in Himself for Adam’s (and our) benefit.
This little-by-little, step-by-step, line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept way of revealing His perfect light, is how God made us. There is that in man, especially since the curse of inherited sin came into Adam and Eve and was passed on to us all except our Lord, that wants to be independent of our Creator and find his own light, so to speak, but God originally created us to voluntarily seek and humbly accept divine assistance. And, of course, for us to have the privilege of voluntarily loving and walking with God, there must, of necessity, be the very real possibility that we would choose not to do so, with all attendant results. Therefore we read, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23) This confession was wrung from the lips of a man of God who was called to weep over and to warn a nation of the awful consequences of turning away from God and doing as seemed best to themselves. “I know that the way of man is not in himself.” No, it is not. We were meant to walk in the light of God, step by step, as He revealed it to us. God meant for Himself and every human being to form a wonderful partnership. God, in all His perfection, would lead and teach, provide and make possible, while man would rejoice and continue to voluntarily choose to serve Him and obey Him. This ideal is prophesied in Isaiah 30:21, “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.”
But the decision to receive light from God is not as simple as just yes or no. The same thing that prompts man to turn completely away from God can also prompt him to partially turn away and partially follow. In other words, it is possible to pick and choose what you will hear and receive of what God reveals, and the results will be just what you would expect—some blessings and some judgments, a confusing and unacceptable (to God) outcome. This would be the result of a deliberate and willful choice to partial light from heaven. There are also failures to follow all the light because of things that thwart or hide light from the soul. This would amount to following Jesus afar off (Matthew 26:58), instead of up close and nigh. There are those who refuse to see, and there are those who are hindered in seeing. But whether a man digs in his heels and gets obstinate and stubborn, or whether he honestly does not “get it,” the benefit and blessing of light is lost if it is not received and followed, and the man walks in darkness. There are degrees of darkness, ranging from gross darkness to almost light.
“By Thy Word we stand or fall,
By Thy Word we live or die;
If in part and not by all,
Then we make His word a lie.”*
We would now consider what it means to be partly genuinely right spiritually, while being also partly in error. We observe at once that pure religion and undefiled (James 1:27) would be to have undiluted, completely right religion, both in belief and in experience. The other end of the spectrum would be to be completely given over to error and evil. The right condition would consist of being as hot as it is possible to be, while the extreme of error and evil would be to be as cold as ice. In between would be various degrees of lukewarmness (Revelation 3:15-16). If we consider the subject from the standpoint of health, then there would be perfect health, i.e., as good a state of health as it is possible to have; while the loss of perfect health would proceed down to complete debilitation, even to death.
A brother once preached that the New Testament is geared to a completely sanctified experience. That is, it is utterly necessary to have and possess all that inward experience that God has made available for the human soul, in order to properly understand and to fully utilize our privileges in Christ Jesus. The full New Testament privileges are designed for spiritual adulthood, not babyhood, and God has designed the gospel “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Ephesians 4:12-14) This is the normal development of a child of God.
“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” (Hebrews 5:13-6:1)
Whenever there is not a going on unto perfection, then spiritual development is hindered or completely stopped, and “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” is not reached. There are many attendant results. All about us are cases of arrested spiritual development. “Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:30) It does not have to be this way, but it is this way.
The Potential That Is in Divine Light
Just as a little sin (rebellion) contains the potential for the most horrible, vicious sin imaginable, just a small amount of light from God contains an unimaginable potential for the perfect fulness of Divine perfection. Light from God is heavenly seed, and we read in Matthew 13:31-32, “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” The smallest bit of genuine light, when grown, becomes a great tree of light.
Man experiments, reasons, and concludes, but God knows, and knows perfectly. God never has to reverse Himself. He never needs to retrace His steps. He gets it right from the very beginning. When a human being is directed and instructed by light from heaven, as that light was in Jesus Christ, that light builds on itself—“The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Proverbs 4:18)
If a man walks in that wonderful light, so different from fleshly human reasoning and thinking, and walks in that light alone and unmixed with anything else, he would make no mistakes; he would never have crooked paths, and he would have no regrets. God can and will change the human heart so that it loves perfectly and has a consistent inward motive to walk in all the light that God shines on the pathway, but there is something else to consider besides just motive. As long as we are in the body, we are subject to other voices and our own reasoning. Many an individual has received genuine understanding and comprehension from God, and unwittingly added to the heavenly vision with some reasoning or thinking that was not part of what God sent. That added part did not and could not prove out. Indeed, in many cases, the light from God actually contradicts and discredits what we assume to be correct, but this only becomes apparent with the passage of time and a determined, sustained effort to obey truth and walk in the light.
A good example of this is found in the New Testament. Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven—a completely new experience of regeneration, that had never been seen in the world before. Ever since the creation of man, there had never been a human heart that was regenerated (born again) and made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Nicodemus could not imagine it (John 3:1-10) “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) One might get the impression that this scripture is speaking of things that belong to the glory world alone, for this light has not “entered in the heart of man,” but it is plain from the next verse that these things have been revealed. Evidently, this light has not entered into the heart of man by his own efforts, and this interpretation is sustained in John 1:13, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
All of the thoughts of man about God, all of the experiences of man with God, since the fall of man, were built on our relationship to a pure and holy God while we had hearts which could be forgiven, but not purified. And all this mass of impressions, convictions, and experiences produced certain expectations of what the Messiah would be like and what He would do. Our outlook of the future, of what is even possible, is so affected by our light, that, in a sense, we are prisoners of the amount of light that we have, and the possibilities that are in God are hidden from us. Such knowledge is too high for us; we cannot obtain it, until God reveals more. All we can do is trust, absolutely and completely, that God knows what He is doing, and that “the Lord will make a way, somehow.” Therefore, “The just shall live by faith.” (Hebrews 10:38)
God understands our ability to receive and our inability to comprehend. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14) He constantly deals with us perfectly appropriately and also doesn’t deal with us just right, too. What happened after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden had such a profound effect of our minds and hearts, that God delayed for centuries the first coming of His Son; otherwise, we would not have had a fair chance of receiving Him and believing. Therefore, we read, “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5) God wanted to send His Son right away, for such was our awful need of Him, but the Loving Almighty patiently laid a foundation for our faith in the intervening time until the fulness of the time was come. Behind each divine revelation to men overall and to individuals is this patient, loving wisdom. This should cause us to realize now the importance and timeliness of any divine revelation to us. It should help us value it and consecrate to it.
If our faith falters and we began to doubt the validity of light from heaven given to us, our path begins to go in a different direction than the path that God is revealing. In such a case, we are giving place to some other influence and guidance than God, and time will eventually reveal (perhaps only when our life is over) that all other ground is indeed sinking sand, and that only the light that God gives will prove out.
It is human to want God to stay within the boundaries of our comprehension. When Peter was being given a vision from God in Acts 10:10-17, we are told that he “doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean.” Who could blame him for that? What was really involved was radically different for him and all with him. “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” If God had left Peter with nothing but the vision only, Peter would never have gotten a hold of what God had for him. (The vision was given three times—a very significant matter for Peter.) This vision eventually involved the laying aside of circumcision. It involved a more advanced understanding of why God gave the Old Testament, and on and on….
There is danger here, too, in the step-by-step process. If what I accept is not genuine light, then it can take me (even ever so subtly) away from light that I already have. And yet…light from heaven will not fit in the thinking and comprehension I already have that is not taught of God. It is plain that a consecration must be made and affirmed over and over. “Lord, I am open to everything that is of you, and I am closed to everything that is not.”
It would not be fair to say that God does not accept imperfect service. We might say that God does not accept willfully imperfect service. There have been many people who have loved the Lord just as far as they understood to love Him, and “it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not,” (2 Cor. 8:12) but there was and is a lack in this kind of attempt to please God that dwarfs the soul and limits the grasp of faith (an example would be children of God attempting to please Him under Catholicism). God has something for us that will change that. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) To find the blessing that comes with purity of heart is to find the heart condition that opens the spiritual eyes to see God and His wonderful ways. At that point, a wonderful process begins to work in the heart of an entirely sanctified person; a growth in grace is begun. And if the child of God will stay pure in heart and true to God by His assistance, then his ground will bring forth a harvest, “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:8) Why do not all bring forth an hundredfold? Because there is more to walking in the light than meeting the beginning of conditions: a pure heart. There is the matter of how much prior conditioning and current circumstances hinder the effect of light.
In 2 Timothy 1:5, we read, “I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Notice the cumulative effect of light in Brother Timothy. It is not intellectual indoctrination; it is unfeigned faith. It dwelt in a member of two generations back from Brother Timothy, and it left him with a godly heritage that gave him the potential of an hundredfold.
One of the results of free will choice is that how we conduct our lives either makes it easier for others to live right, or it makes it harder. What we do or do not do leaves a legacy that effects the current generation and even the generations following. The world we live in now is the result of billions of choices by the many lives lived before us. The conflict between right and wrong sways back and forth in the generations of mankind. When men receive the gospel, sin and evil are weakened in their effect on mankind, and when they reject or neglect the gospel, sin and evil are strengthened in their effect. Left to itself, sin constantly grows worse, but the actual history of the world is a story of repented sin, of reformations and revivals, of repeated failures, of apostasies, and descents. Nor is this just the thrust and parry of a certain generation. The scale of things is enormous and spans many, many generations.
When Jesus came to the men and women of Judea, He found that they already had a lot of ideas about what He was and what He should do. They expected a literal kingdom. They expected the defeat of the Romans. They expected that they would be the most favored of all people, exonerated and exalted. But Jesus was not about to attempt to graft the truth unto their thinking, and if He had, it would not have worked. “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” (Luke 5:36-39)
Divine truth is complete in itself. It does not need and cannot agree with other influences, for it is all sufficient in itself. Certain idolatrous religions teach precepts that sound almost Christian, but they are not Christian. The outward harmony not withstanding, the slant is different, and the outcome is different, too. God’s truth will pop the old bottle understanding every time; the new will not agree with the old. With each advancement of truth, there must be a rejection of old error. They cannot be reconciled.
When E. E. Shelhamer, an apparently humble, careful holiness minister of the late 1800’s, encountered carefully-prepared, timely divine light on the church question, he rejected it. Here are his reasons for rejecting it in his own words.
But how did I escape? Others fell into error, while it seemed God had a special care over me. Only two weeks after I left home for College certain preachers came into that community and began preaching a strange doctrine. At first they taught the essentials, but reserved the “strong meat” until the people could digest it. Then they became harsh and denunciatory toward those who did not readily receive it. The chief members of the church accepted it and the result was a “division” and “schism,” the very thing they were denouncing.
They sent me their literature and later my own cousin came all the way west to “convert Elzie.” I listened attentively, but the new doctrine did not appeal to me—to “come out of all sects” and at the same time form a more sectarian sect. Their members did not feel free to attend other services, except to “let their light shine.” They could argue Scripture for hours, but took little interest in helping at the altar, unless it meant a new proselyte. It seemed to me that God’s method was to take the narrow, sectarian spirit out of us, and make us lovable toward all of His saints, rather than take us out of a Holiness organization to form another, with a few tenants added. God in mercy did not let me return home until I could meet their arguments. When I did, a great revival broke out, but I had no cooperation from my former friends. They wept over me, they denounced me, and finally declared that I had rejected the “evening light” and had sinned against the Holy Ghost. They warned the people not to hear me, that I would have no more revivals; but after these many years, all their prophecies have failed.
The thing that God hates in your church or mine, is sin and bigotry. The same accursed thing manifested itself in the disciples when they said, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name and we forbade him, because he followeth not us.” Friend, you may be saved up to the point that you do not openly oppose those who are not of your little crowd, but you must go farther and bid him God’s speed, if he is getting men genuinely converted. I fear few are saved to this extent.
[Elmer E. Shelhamer; How We Escaped, “A Strange Doctrine”]
It is plain from Mr. Shelhamer’s words that he believed in the inevitability of sects. This is not to say that he valued them or desired them. He simply thought they could not be avoided. He did not believe that God was doing a work to remove all factional love out of men’s hearts; and although he firmly believed in perfect love, entire sanctification, and deliverance from inward carnality, he did not identify this inward work and blessing with deliverance from all “the little crowds,” but instead, with a desire to work with and bid God’s speed to all saved in all those places. He did not see God’s church, built by Him, governed by Him, separate from all the little pens in which God’s children found themselves. Most of all, he had no light on the Come-Out Message: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) Therefore, the attempts of those around him to respond to this message “did not appeal to him,” and he concluded that they were simply forming a new sect—could not help doing so. He rejected light from heaven on this point—without rejecting it on living a life of deliverance from carnality. He saw the light partially…and remained without light partially. His experience remained a “dark and cloudy day”; his light was not “clear or dark.” (Ezekiel 34:12; Zechariah 14:6-7) Those around him ended up condemning him and predicting doom and gloom for him. He seems to have ended up as he started—partly blessed and partly missing out. Only God knows just how to handle his final judgment, and this, of course, is true of any of us.
The light that Mr. Shelhamer received (on entire sanctification) was limited by his darkness on the church question. He is profitable to read and study about deliverance from carnality as far as it went, but he has little to contribute beyond his light. There are many other writings that fit into this category: clear and dark.
Consider this: Mr. Shelhamer has run his course and finished his fight. He has met his Creator. We hope that all went well with him, and he is in Paradise right now, awaiting the general judgment. Now here is the point: Now he sees. Now he sees the evil of sectism in a way that he did not seem to see it when he was here. Now he sees the effect of his ministry; now he sees the full potential that was in the light that he did receive. The veil is now removed, and it is face to face. No earthly reign of a thousand years in the future. No removal of sect barriers in such an imagined golden age. Now his wood and stubble are consumed, and he realizes that they could have been consumed down here.
The apostasy that eclipsed the light of Christianity after the successful overthrow of the many beliefs of paganism had a profound effect on the history of mankind. What kind of world would we have had if there had been no Catholic Church, no dark ages, no Protestant Reformation? But all of these broad outlines of religious history (with many others) were shaped by men rejecting light from God and attempting to recover from those rejections. The scale is so large, so beyond the normal range of a man’s life span, that it would not be grasped without the prophecies of Revelation. This light is given to help us acquire perspective for our times.