It is fear of falling into the hands of God that makes us so eager to get things reduced to a formula. We feel that if we can learn the “secret” of salvation or the “steps” into the blessed life, we can control our future and (though we would not admit it) control God Himself to a large degree. This saves face and preserves our self-confidence, but it also mutes the voice of power in the gospel and weakens the operations of God in the soul. Only the despairing heart can know the inward witness.
In the final analysis, no one can lead another to God. All he can do is to lead the inquirer to the door of the kingdom and urge him onward. Between God and the returning soul there is a zone of obscurity through which he cannot see. It is the light that no man can approach unto and past which no one can go on his feet or by means of reason or theological knowledge. There faith must make its leap of pure trust into the arms of God crying with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15), or with Newton, “O Lord, I trust in Thee completely, and if I go to hell I’ll go down standing on Thy Word.”
It is this utter desperation that brings the witness, and yet I cannot tell anyone how to reach such a state. All I can do is to urge everyone to repent and believe on Jesus Christ. If the repentance is genuine and the faith real, all human confidence will come crashing down and the humbled soul will be forced to make its leap of faith alone.
The reader that cannot find his way from here is in all probability still impenitent. And let him beware of seeking cheap comfort from a text jockey who will cry, “‘Peace, peace,’. . . when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). He had better by far take his Bible and retire to the secret place to seek God alone. If there’s hope for him, he’ll find it there. But he’ll find it nowhere else.
Almost every cult with which we have any acquaintance practices this art of selecting and ignoring. The no-hell cults, for example, habitually stress everything in the Bible that seems to support their position and play down or explain away all the passages that deal with eternal punishment.But we do well to look closer to home. Proneness to heresy is not confined to the cults. By nature, we are all heretics. We who count ourselves to be in the historic tradition of sound doctrine may in actual practice become heretics after a sort. We may unconsciously select for special attention such Scriptures as comfort and encourage us and pass over the ones that rebuke and warn us. This trap is so easy to fall into that we may be in it before we are aware.
Take, for instance, the “well-marked” Bible. It might be an illuminating experience to peep into one sometimes and note how the owner has underscored almost exclusively the passages that console him or that support his views on doctrine. We habitually love the verses that are easy on us and shy away from the ones that disturb us.
Undoubtedly God goes along with us as far as He can in this weak and one-sided treatment of the Holy Scriptures, but He cannot be pleased with this way of doing. Our Heavenly Father takes pleasure in seeing us develop and grow up spiritually. He does not want us to live entirely on a diet of sweet stuff. He gives us for our encouragement Isaiah 41, but He gives us also Matthew 23 and the book of Jude, and He expects us to read it all. The eighth chapter of Romans is one of the most elevating passages in the entire Bible, and its popularity is well deserved; but we need Second Peter as well, and we should not neglect to read it. When reading Paul’s epistles, we should not stop with the doctrinal sections but should go on to read and ponder the bracing exhortations that follow. We should not stop with Romans 11; the rest of the epistle is also important, and if we would treat our souls fairly, we must give it the same attention we gave to the first ten chapters.
Briefly, the health of our souls requires that we take the whole Bible as it stands and let it do its work in us. We cannot afford to be selective with anything so important as the Word of God and our own eternal future.
When the Bible says “Awake to righteousness and sin not,” it indicates the possiblity of a sudden awakening, like when an alarm clock going off rouses you out of sleep. There is such a thing as being asleep and suddenly being wakened, and this is surprising to people. People often say, “You know, I was living a life displeasing to God. I was a church member, but though I didn’t know it, I was displeasing to God. My life wasn’t right. Then suddenly I was wakened by God. It was a surprise.” . . . People who are awakened from moral sleep say, “Well, what’s the matter with me? I’ve been living a life that’s been displeasing to God, and I simply did not know it. “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. . . . This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven'” (Genesis 28:16-17). Jacob must have been rather disconcerted when he awoke and found that he had been in the presence of God all the time, but he had been asleep. He was not morally dead; he was not cut off from the covenant–he was merely asleep.