“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” — 1 Tim. 4:16.
At all times, but especially when one year is ending and another is beginning, we should appreciate God’s kind favor. Well may our hearts go out to Him in praise and thanksgiving for His tender mercies and His bountiful blessings. Looking over the past, we can all, if we are honest with ourselves, recognize that we have committed many sins, both of commission and of omission, i.e., we have done many things that we should not have done, and have left undone many things that we should have done. If we have never come to God in His appointed way, or if we have come to Him but have more or less backslidden, now is a good time to turn over a new leaf. We suggest the text quoted above as our annual motto text for 2018, and pray that it will bring to all of us a rich blessing as we apply it to our minds, hearts and lives.
As our text says, we begin by taking heed unto ourselves by preparing our hearts and minds in repentance for whatever sins we have committed. A sin is a violation, a transgression, of the law of God (1 John 3:4), whether it be in a great matter or in a lesser matter, and even the slightest infraction of God’s law makes us guilty of breaking it as a whole (James 2:10). True repentance means much more than a change from a wrong to a correct knowledge as to sin and righteousness.
A close analysis of repentance as to sin reveals that it has seven parts, as indicated in the Scriptures: (1) intellectual conviction of sin (John 8:9; Luke 18:13; Psa. 51:4); (2) heart’s sorrow for sin (Luke 10:13; 2 Cor. 7:9-11); (3) hatred of sin (Deut. 7:26; Psa. 101:3; 119:128, 163; Rom. 7:15; 12:9); (4) abandonment of sin (Prov. 28:13; Jer. 4:1; Eph. 4:31); (5) confession of sin (2 Sam. 24:10; Ezra 9:5-7; 10:1; Neh. 9:1, 2; Psa. 32:5; 51:4; Matt. 3:6; 1 John 1:8, 9); (6) restitution for sin (Lev. 5:15, 16; 6:4, 5; Num. 5:6, 7; Ezek. 33:15; Luke 19:8); and (7) opposition to sin (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23; Eph. 6:11-13; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8, 9). In addition to these seven distinct parts of repentance in respect to sin, it has also three parts in respect to righteousness. True repentance includes also (1) a love for righteousness (Psa. 51:1-15; 119:113, 163; Rom. 7:22; 12:9); (2) practice of righteousness (Acts 26:20; Rom. 6:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:24), and (3) warfare for righteousness (2 Cor. 7:10, 11; 10:3-5; Heb. 12:4).
If we exercise such repentance, in its parts both as to sin and as to righteousness, we are making good progress in preparing our hearts unto the Lord; however, repentance is not the end of this preparation; rather it is only the beginning. The most that repentance can do, is to cleanse us from a measure of the power of sin. It cannot cleanse us from the guilt or condemnation of sin. No sinner, no matter how repentant, can have the Divine favor of everlasting life, unless he additionally takes further steps.
“The wages of sin is death,” and death, eternal destruction, would be the portion of every one of us, even though repentant, were it not for God’s great mercy extended to us through Christ—“the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). God’s proposition is not to save people in their sins, but to save them from their sins (Matt. 1:21)—and to this end He in His great love sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, into the world to suffer and die, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the One “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [satisfaction] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25), and “he is the propitiation for our [the Church’s] sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Only by taking the steps of repentance, justification by faith and consecration can we become real Christians (for details, see the article, “What is a Real Christian?” in Bible Standard No. 353—a copy free on request). And if we have become real Christians and then have backslidden—if we have become more or less negligent of our covenant relationship with God, more or less unfaithful in our consecration to give up our own wills and to do God’s will—it is necessary for us to repent for our sins, to seek forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s merit, and to renew our consecration. Since through the weaknesses of our fallen flesh we daily commit sins, both of omission and of commission, we need daily to pray, “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). Daily we should renew our covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father, and daily we should strive to carry it out. Then only can we remain true Christians.
BIBLE STUDY NECESSARY
After we become true Christians, and as we daily strive to carry out our consecration, and to develop in Christlikeness, we need to seek more and more to know what God’s will is for us. And how can we do God’s will, except we learn what it is? And how can we learn what it is, except we diligently study the Bible, God’s Word, in which He reveals His will for His people? “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3). Jesus prayed to God for His Church, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). We are to be sanctified (set apart unto God) and cleansed “with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26), and this sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the Truth leads to obedience (2 Thes. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2).
Our Lord explains that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). He here makes a distinction between worship in spirit and worship in Truth. We might have the Truth of God’s Word and know a great deal about God, but if we do not go to Him in spirit—in the right attitude of heart—our worship will not be acceptable, no matter how much we might know. On the other hand, a man might be a heathen and yet have a great deal of the spirit of worship and make great sacrifices in sincere devotion, but his service would not be acceptable to God nor honor His holy name unless rendered in harmony with the Truth. Many have “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). How important it is, then, to study God’s Word, that we may have both the Truth and the spirit of the Truth—that we may worship Him, may serve Him, both in spirit and in Truth!
In preparing our hearts unto the LORD, let us, then, remember also the Apostle’s exhortations: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), and if we accept and act upon God’s invitation; “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26), we will study His Word to learn of His ways. If we prepare our hearts properly unto the LORD, He promises: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16). Jesus stated the matter clearly: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). To “keep his words,” we must know them—this is the importance of personal and group Bible study.
Someone might ask: how do I “take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine?” Our answer is, by feasting with the Lord. In Rev. 3:20 our Lord Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” We must ask, have I opened the door of my mind and heart for Him to enter? Once an artist painted a picture of our Lord standing at the door. An observer pointed to what seemed to be an oversight—the absence of a latch on the outside of the door. But the artist explained that he had omitted it intentionally—that this was a door that was to be opened only from the inside.
Our Lord does not open the door and enter into the mind and heart. He wants us to open the door. “Any man,” i.e., anyone, who hears the “knock” and the “voice,” may, if he so wills, exercise faith and open the door [his heart]. This requires activity on our part. It means the giving up of not only self-will but also the errors and traditions of men; and it means not only the accepting of the Lord’s will to govern us in all things, but also the receiving of the Truth message and its Spirit into the mind and heart. It means sanctification by the Truth and the “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Jesus said, “If any man will do his [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine.” “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 7:17; 8:31, 32, 36). And we read in Psa. 25:9, “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.” Do I properly appreciate the coming of God and Jesus into my mind and heart and feasting with me on the Truth as due? Do I recognize that in the rejected nominal church systems there is “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11; 2 Tim. 3:1-7, 13; 4:3, 4)?
By hearing the words of the LORD we have the ability to properly appreciate that since our consecration to God we are His temple, His dwelling place, in that He dwells in us, not personally, but by His holy Spirit, His holy power and disposition (1 Cor. 3:16)! Am I glorifying God in my body and in my spirit, which are His (1 Cor. 6:19, 20)? Our mind is filled with questions: Do I properly appreciate the sumptuous banquet on the table that God through Jesus has prepared for me in the present Truth and its Spirit? How am I partaking of this great spiritual feast—the understanding and appreciation of the Divine Plan and the soul nourishment and strengthening such as was never mine before? Am I earnestly practicing the Truth and its Spirit, “letting my light so shine before men, that they may see my good works, and glorify [not me (Matt. 6:1), but] my Father which is in heaven,” and am I showing forth to all, as I have opportunity, “the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light” (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:9)? And whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do, am I doing all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Am I living as a good “example of the believers,” and can I truly say to others, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (I Tim. 4:12; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1)? Can I expect God and Jesus to fellowship with me?
THE CHRISTIAN WALK
Walking conveys the thought of making progress in a certain course of conduct. One’s walk is his course of conduct, including motives, thoughts, words and acts. It may be good or evil, depending on the course he is following. The Christian walk would therefore be the course of conduct in following the example of Christ Jesus, in doing God’s will day by day. Jesus encouraged ones to become His disciples, to take up their cross and follow Him (Matt. 4:19; 9:9; 16:24; Luke 14:27, etc.). The Apostle Paul says, “Walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6). The Apostle Peter says that Jesus left us “an example, that we should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). The Apostle John says, “He that saith he abideth in him [Christ] ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
In the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians he indicates very clearly what the walk or course of the Christian should be, outlining it in seven different respects:
(1) The Christian should walk not according to the course of this world, not according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2; Col. 3:5-7). This is the walk of the world, the walk of evildoers, the walk of scoffers (2 Pet. 3:3, 4), the walk of the children of wrath; it is the very opposite of the walk of the children of light.
(2) The Christian should walk in good works—For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto [not by] good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
(3) The Christian should walk worthy of the vocation [a strong inclination to a particular course of action] wherewith he is called (Eph. 4:1). “Walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:12; Col. 1:10). As Christians we have the highest vocation on earth: we are representatives of our Heavenly Father and of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, and Their Kingdom; we bear Their names, and should seek in everything to bring Them honor and glory. What we do, what we say, what we think—in fact, even general appearance and deportment, and the places in which we are seen, all reflect more or less upon the great King, whose ambassadors we are (2 Cor. 5:20). Our vocation is that of servants of God, and no earthly avocation should be permitted in any degree to hinder or abridge the influence or the service which we have undertaken as children of God and as brethren of our precious Lord and Savior.
(4) The Christian is to walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind (Eph. 4:17). We are to refrain not merely from the sins and gross immoralities of the natural man in his fallen condition, but we are to allow this principle or spirit to pervade all of life’s interests. We are to refrain from following foolish, worldly fashions, from being influenced by a worldly spirit; we are to have the Spirit of the Lord, His disposition, the spirit of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7), to direct us in our joys, in our sorrows, in our wedding celebrations, in our funeral services—in fact, whether we eat, or drink, or whatsoever we do, we are to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We are not to be influenced by the spirit of the world nor yield to the vanity of the mind of the world, but contrariwise are to set a proper example for the world in all matters—in gentleness, kindness, patience and faithfulness to the Lord and to duty. The walk of the world is on the broad road; the walk of God’s true people is on a narrow path. As we progress in Christian experience, we find this path getting farther and farther away from the broad road which the world is traveling, and whoever tries to keep pace with the world will in many respects be apt to find himself leaving the narrow path or otherwise disadvantaging himself as a Christian.
(5) The Christian is to walk in love (Eph. 5:2). Our thoughts, words, deeds and everything with which we are connected, are to be governed by this law of love. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (Rom. 13:10; John 15:12). In compliance with this law of love and our Lord’s glorious example, the Apostle says we ought to so love one another as to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16). We do this in sacrificial service, especially along the lines of the spiritual or higher interests. This spirit of love is to control our conduct with all; we are to love our neighbors and seek to do them good, to serve their best interests. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor,” would not take advantage of his neighbor to cheat him, to injure him in any manner. Love would not prompt its possessor to speak evil of his neighbor, but would lead to a remembrance of the Scriptural injunction, “Speak evil of no man” (Titus 3:2). Love would obey this injunction from principle, because it is right, but more than this, Love ultimately takes such an interest that the brother exercising it does not wish to do anything that would be harmful to another’s interests, to his welfare, but rather to do something to his honor and blessing. Love, progressing as we walk in it, ultimately brings us to that blessed condition where we can love even our enemies and be glad for the privilege of doing good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us (Matt. 5:44).
(6) Christians are instructed also to walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). Their course in life is always to be with respect to the things that are true, honest, just, pure, loving, noble and kind, the things that are in harmony with the Divine character and Word, the things that prove to be of greatest blessing to their brethren, neighbors and friends. In 1 John 1:5-7; 2:9-11 we read: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 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. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” Likewise, Jesus said: “He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth” (John 12:35; 8:12). Children of the light will every day and year see progress; their light will be shining more and more clearly and accomplishing the greatest good; they will not be ashamed of it, but will set it on a candlestick, where it may give light to all in the house, to every member of the household of faith. Even a small lighted candle will give light to the farthest corner of a dark room, but all the darkness of the room cannot extinguish the lighted candle. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
(7) Finally, Christians should walk circumspectly (Eph. 5:15). This word circumspectly signifies to look carefully all around at every step. The Christian cannot be one who lives carelessly, and as he looks around him and realizes the various pitfalls and snares, not only will he seek to make straight paths for his feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way (Heb. 12:13), but additionally he will seek Divine aid, counsel and guidance that he make no mistakes, that every step in life’s pathway will be such as will have Divine approval and glorify God in his body and spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:20). This circumspection of our walk as Christians is the more necessary because our Adversary, the Devil, is especially on the alert to ensnare us; and our tests are permitted to be the severer as we come nearer the goal of fully developed character. We should walk circumspectly also because we profess to be true Christians, partakers of God’s holy Spirit and not the spirit of the world, but separate from it; and because our lights, so shining, more or less reprove the world. Therefore those who have the spirit of the world, instead of sympathizing with us, usually hate us, and watch either to see what fault can be found with our walk, or to stumble and trip us, sometimes from malicious impulses and sometimes for other reasons.
Sometimes even our brethren seek to keep us from the way of sacrifice. E.g., the Apostle Peter, when speaking to our Lord, said, Far be it from thee, Lord, to sacrifice thyself and die (Matt. 16:22). To walk circumspectly is to take note of these various hindrances and stumbling-stones and pitfalls; to hearken to the instructions of God’s Word and to the leadings of His holy spirit, and to walk carefully and in so doing to develop characters which are pleasing to our Lord and Head.
The Apostle Paul adds that this circumspection is necessary in order to our walking “not as fools [unwise], but as wise.” There is a wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God, and there is a wisdom with God which is foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 1:18-25). The wisdom of God is to be ours, and we are to exemplify it in all the affairs of life. Faithful Christians should be the most exemplary, the most wonderful people in the whole world, the wisest in the management of their affairs, in the governing of their children, in their eating, drinking and dressing. Not that the world will always approve, but that the end will justify the course which God’s Word directs, and which His wise children, walking circumspectly, will take.
Let all of us, regardless of any sectarian affiliations or any family or other human relationships, hold firmly to God and to the real teachings of His holy Word. Many leaders will endeavor to get us to accept contrary teachings and to follow them (Acts 20:30), and the more we listen to them the more confused we will be. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). The Apostle Paul exhorts, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
In preparing our hearts unto the LORD, let us, then, remember also the Apostle’s exhortations: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); and if we accept and act upon God’s invitation, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26), we will study His Word to learn of His ways. If we prepare our hearts properly unto the LORD, He promises: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16). Jesus stated the matter clearly: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
God’s Word is filled with precious promises. We should by faith lay hold on and appropriate to ourselves those promises that pertain to us in Christ Jesus. We should never doubt our Heavenly Father, for “He is faithful that promised.” “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear [reverence] him; and he will show them his covenant” (Psa. 25:14). Let us make sure that we reverence Him supremely and have no other gods before Him. Our full religious allegiance must be to Him and to Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord and Head. If we would be true Christians we must deny self, take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
If doubts or fears intrude in some dark hour, we have only to take the “Lamp” (God’s Word) and examine again the facts and the foundation for our faith, and if our hearts are still loyal to God, then faith, joy and peace will soon return to us, but if we find that our faith in God’s Word is weakening, or our spirit of consecration and our full devotion to Him is slipping away, we know the true condition of affairs, and can at once make the necessary adjustments and repairs and re-establish our “full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).
But be it noted that each one who would have this assurance must “set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33), and that our Lord changes not, but is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). Let us be active and diligent in our study, practice and service of the true faith (Jude 3). Let us “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; FOR HE IS FAITHFUL THAT PROMISED” (Heb. 10:23).
At this season let us all resolve that by the Lord’s assisting grace we will be more faithful in the study, practice and spread of His Word. Let us be careful that nothing—including such things as home, property, family, titles, friends, ambitions, country, leaders, the opposite sex, etc.—will absorb more than its rightful amount of our time and attention. Let us be careful that no idols creep into our hearts to divide our affections between them and the Lord. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Let us seek to cut off as many minutes and hours from our earthly interests as we reasonably can, and devote them to the study of the Word, using the helps Divinely provided, and to the spread of the Truth of God’s Word, by the spoken word and the printed page. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23, 24). “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
The main thing is that God desires His people to be very diligent to seek His leadings carefully and prayerfully, and not just be governed by impulses or opinions of others, some of whom may not be God’s people at all. Even if a mistake is made, God considers whether or not His leadings have earnestly been sought. The father who knows that his child was seeking what was pleasing to him, even though a wrong step is made, will certainly consider this and appreciate the child accordingly. The same is true with our Heavenly Father.