I recently read a sermon by 19th-century minister George Everard that runs entirely counter to the popular preaching theme of dangerous Christianity. The section that caught my attention was the exhortation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 to "Avoid every kind of evil", resolving "to keep out of harm's way."
This doesn't sound like the radical, risk-taking, daring, death-defying talk we get at conferences and on podcasts these days.
If it's true that extremeness in preaching reflects the sins of the previous generation, then perhaps both of these scenarios can be forgiven and attributed to whatever issues the evangelical leadership felt/feels most needed/needs to be addressed during their times. I think it is true that we ought to guard against an undue sense of safety and complacency in our Christian walk. I'm all for pushing the limits of a comfort zone and even learning to live beyond it altogether. I also believe a guilt-trip call to thrills-based ministry with a disregard for the biblical doctrine of the heart sets followers up for failure, despair, and a weariness that cannot be relieved because pacing and deliberation have been reviled. It is especially tragic when "living dangerously for Jesus" becomes an idol itself.
Here are the two themes reconciled under one thought:
When storming the gates of hell, take care that your heart is not already drafting the Facebook status you'll write when you post the pictures.
We don't hear much today of the importance of examining motivations and setting up guardrails to hedge out sin and temptation. I can only imagine what preachers of the past would think about the provocative messages to "hold nothing back, have an explosive faith" that have spread like wildfire all over social media. Gunpowder to them meant a heart without Spirit-control or sobriety, without discernment or guardrails. It's a worthy exercise to consider the motivations of the heart from their persepective.
Here is an excerpt of Everard's sermon, titled "Mind Your Steps," preached in 1884. Of course, Everard's view on the doctrine of the heart was not new to his time either. Seventeenth-century preacher J.C. Ryle's writings are saturated with such warnings and could be summed up in this little quote: "Guard your hearts, and there will be little fear about your actions."
(And let me express my gratitude to Grace Gems for their tireless work in preserving and reintroducing the works of past preachers.)
Be careful to guard against all occasions of sin and evil. There is no safety without setting a watch against all that is likely to prove an injury or a stumbling-block.
I read one day of the remarkable precautions which are taken to avoid danger in a gunpowder manufactory. The walls are all of stone, and no wood is allowed to be in the place. Anyone who walks through has to take off his shoes, lest the nails in them should strike a spark. Then, if he has any metal, or the like on him, he must leave it at the door. The danger is so great, that everything must be done to avoid any approach to it.
Oh that Christians would take heed in a similar way to keep from the peril of sin! Keep far away from any approach to temptation. You have gunpowder hearts — so ready to ignite from the least spark. A look, a word, an evil example, a sentence in a book, a suggestion from a bad companion — any of these may be the cause of a world of mischief.
Therefore, make it your firm resolve to keep out of harm's way. Beware of all places, and scenes, and people — that will turn you from the right course. Don't imagine you are strong enough to go, and get no harm. Better to keep far from the edge of the precipice. Better keep out of the lion's mouth! Better keep from the long grass where the cobra is coiled up! Stop while you can; you may go so far that it may be impossible to escape. "Avoid every kind of evil!" (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
Be careful as to keeping up your seasons of devotion. Apostasy begins at the closet door. Those who leave off prayer, or get careless and remiss about it — will soon be left without shield or breastplate, at the mercy of a thousand enemies! Cleave to prayer, and wait upon God continually.
Do not forget the benefit of silent, humble breathings of prayer offered in Jesus' name throughout the day. One upward glance, one short petition, may save you from some great temptation, or help you in some important work.
Let a diligent study of your Bible go side by side with it. Prayer will throw light on the Scriptures — and the promises and examples of the Word will strengthen and encourage you in prayer. Make up your mind that praver is the most important business of every day, and morning, noon, and night besiege the Mercy-seat for fresh help, and grace for yourself and others.
Nor should you be less careful about the public means of grace. They are great feeders of the divine life. Going to Church regularly, and going to the same Church — not wandering from place to place; sparing a week-day evening for the House of God; not failing to renew yourcovenant with Christ at His table at least every month; laying hold of any special opportunities, as a meeting, to forward God's work in the world — all these are precious aids to devotion, and will each in their place strengthen your heart in the fear and love of God.
Be careful to make the very best use of your time. Make the most of each passing day. Instead of trying to kill time — strive to make it so fruitful of good to yourself and others. Hours and moments are golden — yes, more valuable than pearls and diamonds — and to squander and waste them is folly beyond description! Until we reach eternity, we shall never know how much good has been obtained or wrought . . .
by a moment's earnest prayer,
by a passing opportunity seized,
by five minutes given to read a helpful book,
by a quarter of an hour given to visit some suffering saint.
How much Christ accomplished in the three years of His public ministry! He was always intent on the work He had to do, so that tens of thousands were taught and benefitted. And though we are so sinful, and our power so feeble in comparison — is not His life to be a pattern for ours?
Oh, do not waste life. Map it out prudently, and think well of the work to which you yourself are called.
No lost hours through late rising in the morning!
No mornings or evenings worse than lost in drinking in the poison or the vanity of a worthless novel!
No moments thrown away in idle gossip and foolish talking!
No, no — not for this was life given to us! Use it far better and more wisely. Remember that . . .
the time is short,
the work is great, and
the outcome is for eternity!
Soon will the great bell toll, which will usher you into a future state. Brother, sister, make, haste to do all the work allotted to you — to do it well, that the Master may be glorified, and your crown the brighter.
Be careful in the expenditure of money. You can never be reminded too often that you are only a steward of whatever you possess. The gold and the silver belong to the Lord Almighty, and He puts them into your hand to use according to His will.
What would you think of a steward, through whose hands ten or twenty thousand pounds were received yearly in rents — were he to go and expend it in waste and luxury, or to use it in speculation, or risk it in gambling?
And what must Christ think of you, if thousands of dollars a year are in your hands — if you spend it upon self and pleasure and the world — and neglect to honor Him with the first-fruits, and give but little for His cause and the interests of His kingdom? "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise!" (Ephesians 5:15)
Be careful in the matter of common domestic duties. To most people, especially to ladies and young women and mothers of families, the daily home life is the chief part of the discipline which God appoints them. It is equally so to elderly people and invalids of both sexes.
To endure the rubs of home life patiently;
to avoid irritability and touchiness;
to exercise constant forbearance;
to be giving out hour by hour the oil of congenial kindness from a heart at peace with God and itself;
to keep to the Apostolic rule, "Do not be overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good;"
for all, both old and young, to fill well their own niche in the family, and each to bring a quota of happiness to all the rest —
this is the sort of religion that is worth possessing, and that will have a marvelous effect on all who enter the home.
Are you doing your part to bring about a spirit of this kind? Is love, gentleness, kindness, diligence, and willingness to lend a helping hand — that which you are ever aiming at? Are you a sunbeam or a dark cloud in the house? Are all in the family the better for your being one of them?
Lastly, I would say, be careful to guard well the various gates of access to the heart — and of egress into the world.
Guard well the eye. Keep it from vanity. Remember that one look cost Achan his life — and a lustful look embittered the whole of David's years. Let the eye look straight onward, and right upward to the throne.
Guard well the ear. Receive nothing that will pollute or defile you. Hearken to no voice of flattery or persuasion to evil. Welcome every message of the word of truth.
Guard well the memory and imagination. Let no vision or image tarry there, which will chain and enthrall the soul. If unclean birds fly over your head — do not let them settle in your hair.
Nor be less mindful . . .
to curb the tongue,
to guide the foot,
to use the hand according to God's holy will.
The words you utter,
the path you go,
the deeds you perform,
or the letters you write —
tell mightily on yourself and on others. And none should be permitted to act except under the control of the fear and love of God.
In all these points be circumspect. I know not where your danger mostly lies — but God knows — and you may know, if you desire. But, in everything, you need daily prayer and daily watchfulness. Above all, moment by moment, abide in Christ.
It was the saying of a godly woman: "A hundred times a day I pray myself out of my own keeping, into the keeping of Jesus." For, remember, that it is not your careful walking, but Christ's careful keeping — which will ensure your final victory.
Your enemies are legion,
your strength is nothing,
your resolutions soon fail,
your heart is easily beguiled and turned aside —
but the good Shepherd will keep His own redeemed people.
He will point out your danger — and enable you to flee from it.
He will uphold you in perilous places — and lift you up when you fall.
He will keep you from falling — and save you even to the uttermost!
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
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