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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Satan's Advantages From Christians' Infirmities (Part 2)

This blog completes reproduction of the essay of Maurice Roberts in the May 1991 edition of the Banner of Truth Journal.

"As if to intensify our awareness to the fact that spiritual harm may spring up to the followers of Christ where least expected, God ordained and fore-warned that the traitor who should betray the Lord Jesus Christ was none other than one of his chosen apostles. This came as a surprise to the twelve when they first heard it and it is entirely understandable that they would proceed to enquire, 'Lord, is it I?' (Matt. 26:22). We are certainly not less gullible today than they were in their day and therefore we too have to take account of the possibility that those most closely associated with the work of Christ's gospel may become the betrayers of it before their course is fully run. From this possibility no one is exempt. 'Watch and pray' is our only antidote. Even then we need further to examine ourselves, to search our motives and to lay bare our hearts before the scrutiny of Almighty God.

It is awesome to see how, in the course of church history, Satan has taken advantage of the flaws in understanding or practice which God's eminent servants have had. From the brilliant Origen came the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. From the courageous Athanasius, with his respect for Antony and the life of solitude, came the ideal of a monastic Christianity. From the inexactitudes of the toweringly-great Augustine emanated the mediaeval theory of sacramentalism. From the organising zeal of Cyprian and Ambrose developed the later hierarchical structures of the papal church. The devil has proved masterful in the way he has exploited the excesses or shortcomings, the over-enthusiasm or thoughtless incaution of eminent preachers and churchmen in the past. No doubt they aimed at perfection in all things. But in that they missed the mark they gave occasion to Satan to push their errors to undreamed of lengths. This he has done contrary to their intentions at the time, but by a skilful use of their respected names and using their authority among all the lovers of orthodoxy.

Let no man think that this aspect of the devil's duplicity ended with the Church Fathers. It has gone on ever since and remains one of the most successful weapons against the church. Hence we must not only watch our weaknesses, but our strengths as well. The vices of our virtues are more generally harmful to the cause of Christ than our observed vices. It happens in all kinds of ways.

One man, let us say, becomes an internationally-important evangelist. He quite naturally and rightly seeks to bring his influence to bear on the largest possible number of people. He is sound in the basic elements of gospel truth, a Bible-lover and a man of God. He is zealous to win as many souls to Christ as he can. But a dilemma faces him. His conservative theology is resented by Liberals and Catholics. What is he to do?

The confrontational approach will result in smaller crowds at his meetings. Is it not right in the interests of reaching these very persons, to give them some say in the conduct and order of the religious services? At the very least, can some pleasant and softening speeches not be made to win their attachment to the campaigns? If the evangelist of our illustration does so (and let us believe the best of his motives) he is guilty of taking a false step and of committing grave error. By this one false move he now wields all his considerable influence and prestige in the direction of blurring the lines between truth and falsehood. But he may live and die without realising what he has done. The devil, meanwhile, is not slow to draw the threads of falsehood all the more firmly around the minds of those many thousands who, quite understandably, lionised the evangelist.

The above is only one example out of many of the way in which Satan exploits the infirmities of believers. There are applications to every congregation, every denomination, every pulpit and every pew. We might suffer this patiently without additional comment except that in certain cases the advantage gained by Satan becomes so great that it cries out for the utmost attention before it carries everything before it.

Such a situation was reached in the last century with the rise of the Higher Critical theory. It may well be that some of those who joined in the stampede for a critical approach to the text of holy Scripture were men with grace and good intention. If so, they were tragically misled, as the sequel has proved. But we know ourselves too well to forget that we all go astray 'like sheep' (Isa. 53:6). That is to say, we all incline too much towards following others. We love a leader who will do our thinking for us and go over the new ground before us. The price we pay is that we occasionally follow our leaders even over the enchanted ground, and we may have gone some way before we realise our danger and are able with pain and humiliation, to find our way back to the path.

There is one supremely important practical lesson to be learnt from the way Satan takes advantage of the infirmities of Christians. It is that we should seek always to attach the blame for the mischief which occurs rather to him than to them. Satan is expert at starting fires with other men's matches and leaving them to get the blame for it. If our gifted leaders get us into some troubles on occasion, we must have the grace to give them the benefit of acting on good motives. That their over- emphasis or excess of zeal or want of forethought led them into making impudent decisions or to cracking the nut with a sledge-hammer, we must not forget that the mischief which ensued was far more Satan's work than theirs.

It goes without saying also that wise leadership should always regard itself as capable of carrying a good thing too far and giving a handle unwittingly to the common adversary of our souls. Our universal folly as sinners is to become too much like ourselves, to the point where we love ourselves even for our own extremes. But this is an infirmity, and one which Satan will assuredly exploit to hurt the general cause of Christ. A paraffin lamp gives a tolerably good light if the wick is adjusted correctly. But if the wick is turned up too far it sends forth only smoke. Even so do our strong points help our brethren greatly. But, if strained and stretched too far, our helpful emphases only darken the fellowship and offend the brethren. Happy are we if we distrust our own hearts enough to accept correction from those who love us in the Lord.

This essay by Maurice Roberts has lessons for many. For us here at the Sydney Anglican Heretics blogspot we must examine the effect of our zeal for upholding the truth of God's Word, the Nature of Christ and the Glory of God and be careful not to be "starting fires with other men's matches." We must be careful to attribute blame more to Satan than to those who, as weak clay vessels, unwittingly do the work of the arch enemy of Christ's church.

At the same time, those we have spoken out against, must examine themselves to see whether, as we have asserted, they have become agents for Satan in undermining the faith once lost but rediscovered by the Reformers and professed but not entirely affirmed in the 'evangelical' church today. High position affords great opportunity to influence others and when regular pronouncements are cloaked in evangelical 'speak' and a declared intention to uphold the Word of God there are many in the church who place esteem in the man acting as such. However, chinks in the armour are detectable to the astute even if the trimmings of the world camouflage and deceive many.

The 'gloss' of man is dimmed against the Glory of God and the church which survives is that church which trusts implicitly in the Word of God against the seeming strength of argument from the world or those who have compromised with the world.

Biblical history is well supplied with those who have done the bidding of Satan and the history of the church since the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ bears the same sad story. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear look and listen.

Sam Drucker

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