Doctrine and Christian experience must never be separated because God has joined them together. The Westminster Confession, The London Confession of 1689 and The Heidelberg Catechism are the clearest expressions of the doctrinal content of the Bible. There is one thing, however, missing in each of them. What is it? PEOPLE--people with Christian experience.
Christian experience is the influence of sound biblical doctrine applied to the mind, the affections, and the will by the Holy Spirit. True religion is not some mystical, nebulous thing, floating around in the sky. It cannot be anything less than right thinking in respect to God, right feeling in respect to God and right acting in respect to God. Therefore, true religion must reach the whole man. It must reach his mind because that is what he thinks with, it must reach his affections because that is what he feels with, and it must reach his will because that is what he decides with.
It is impossible, therefore, to over-emphasize the importance of sound doctrine as the foundation for the Christian life, Christian worship and Christian witness. Bishop J. C. Ryle said it well when he said, "You can talk about Christian experience all you wish but without doctrinal roots it will be like cut flowers stuck in the ground--they will wither and die."
In the last issue of this journal I focused exclusively on the importance of sound doctrine. In this issue I want to call your attention to the other side of the same coin--Devotion.
I am using devotion and Christian experience synonymously. To put it another way: the devotional house must be built on a doctrinal foundation. We must ever keep before us, however, the realization that doctrine and creeds are not an end in themselves. Many fail at this very point. That is, they make doctrine an end in itself. This will produce nothing but dead orthodoxy. Many never get off the foundation. They are doctrinally as straight as a gun barrel and just as empty. They are very sound doctrinally, but unfortunately, they are sound asleep.
A devotional house, therefore, must be built on a sound doctrinal foundation. The Holy Spirit uses this doctrinal foundation to produce a holy life because the gospel is a holy-making gospel.
Some Christians are afraid of biblical holiness. I wish they were as much afraid of sin as they are of holiness.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne said, "It is a holy making gospel. Without holy fruits all evidences are vain. Dear friends, you have awakenings, enlightenings, experiences, and many due signs; but if you lack holiness, you shall never see the Lord. A real desire after complete holiness is the truest mark of being born again. Jesus is a holy Saviour, He first covers the soul with His white raiment, then makes the soul glorious within--restores the lost image of God, and fills the soul with pure, heavenly holiness. Unregenerate men among you cannot bear this testimony."
It is strange that so many church members either have a false standard of holiness, or else they are afraid of holiness altogether.
If you cannot persuade yourself to be holy you will have no success with others. We must taste and see that the Lord is good. We must taste before we can tell. One thousand wonderful sermons on holiness will not cover a cold, carnal, careless life. A holy sermon is but for an hour, but a holy life is a perpetual sermon.
Richard Baxter said, "A minister's life is the life of his ministry. I say, a Christian's life is the life of his Christianity.
The importance of a devotional life (sometimes called "religion") is clearly brought out by our Lord's rebuke of the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:1-6. Here we note that Jesus commends this church for:
- Their service: "I know your works, and your labor."
- Their sacrificial life: "You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary."
- Their separation (ecclesiastical separation): "You cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars."
What equipment is needed to maintain this devotional life? I suggest three things:
- A Quiet Place
- A Quiet Hour
- A Quiet Heart
Paul's doctrine led to his deep personal hunger for Christ-likeness. Notice also that Paul's devotion affected him in his desire for souls. Rom. 9:1-3: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh." This tells us something about his devotional life.
The Shulamite's testimony is too frequently true of ministers and other Christian workers: "They made me keeper of the vineyards but my own vineyard I have not kept." (Song of Solomon 1:6)
The New Testament corollary passage is I Cor. 9:27: "But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway." This graphically describes Paul's concern for his own spiritual life.
We must keep the weeds out of our own garden by maintaining a devotional life. We must never be satisfied with being the instrument of grace without being the subject of grace.
What does it cost if you are to have a doctrinal foundation and a devotional house?
I once heard Dr. Gwin Walters preach to seminary students, and I remember his warnings. He warned the young ministers of laziness. He warned them of looseness. He warned them of levity and he warned them of lethargy--that is, morbid drowsiness, an inertia arising from soft living.
To build a devotional house there must be some self-denial. Self-denial is not denying oneself of sin. The Christian is never at liberty to sin. Self-denial is foregoing lawful liberties.
The following principles must always guide the Christian's exercise of liberty:
(1) Fear of God. As the servant of Christ, all actions must be moved by a motive of love to God, and all objects must be used for his glory. The term "liberty" is often used as a cloak of malicious self-indulgence, which is sin (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Tim. 4:4-5; 1 Peter 2:15-16).
(2) Love of Brethren. Though no man may dictate to the Christian's conscience, the welfare of fellow-saints must always deeply affect his decisions. In a spirit of serving the brethren, he must do that which he judges will edify them and prevent their stumbling (Gal. 5:13; 1 Cor. 10:23; 1 Cor. 8:9).
(3) Compassion for Sinners. Use of liberty must always be regulated by its effect upon sinners, and that behavior chosen which is likely to win some (1 Cor. 9:19-22).
(4) Watchfulness over the Soul. Though the believer is free in conscience to use all of God's creation, carefulness in practice is demanded of him because of remaining lusts. Where the Christian judges himself weak through lust, he must abstain for the sake of perseverance (1 Cor. 9:23-27).
Self-denial is the character of the cross. "Be not conformed to this world" means something. "Be not entangled with the affairs of this life" means something. Self-denial is subordinating every secondary point to the primary object--it is singleness of mind.
Whatever experience (1) chills our fervor, (2) dissipates our mind, (3) diverts our attention, or (4) occupies an inordinate proportion of our time or interest is the right eye that we are called to pluck out and cast from us.
I do not mean that there should be NO DIVERSION. There is the other extreme of rendering the bow useless by always keeping it bent. Inordinate use of legitimate things is where most good men go down (family, home, position, sports, T.V.). Let me suggest a little paperback on self-denial called The Shadow of the Cross, by Walter J. Chantry (Banner of Truth).
A very simple test on self-denial is as follows:
- What has the supreme place in your affections?
- What is the dominating power in your life?
- What is it that has the molding influence on your heart?
Never has apostasy from the faith (doctrine or practice) been connected with a prayerful and diligent study of God's word. If the great doctrines we have mentioned do not produce and develop (1) true zeal, (2) true holiness, (3) self-denial and (4) evangelism, be sure they are not held properly or else they have become an end in themselves.
Our dealings with infidels and skeptics of Christianity cannot consist of cold metaphysical reasoning and dry scientific arguments. Rather, our evangelistic efforts must extend from believing the whole gospel and living the whole gospel.
Living epistles known and read are better than all the scholarship in the world. Oh, for men and women who know gospel truth and live gospel lives!
I pray these little articles will be used to sharpen us doctrinally and shape us devotionally to be conformed to the image of Him whose we are and whom we serve, whom having not seen we love. Though now we do not see Him, yet believing, we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
The little tree on the cover illustrates what I have tried to emphasize in these two articles on Doctrine and Devotion.