Ellet J. Waggoner
The Present Truth : September 23, 1897
The story of the church councils shows how easy it is for men destitute of genuine religion to be zealously and even violently religious.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” says the Lord. Human nature is a collection of contradictions, and unless God rules in the heart, laying bare its perversity and renewing it, it is bound to deceive its possessor. (Jer. 17:9)
Here, for instance, were men discussing about the nature of Christ, and exhibiting on both sides the very nature of the devil. What was the trouble? First, it was not to become partakers of the Divine nature by partaking of the Word, that they were holding controversy; but each had opinions and definitions for which they contended, in pride and hatred demanding that others should accept, not the gracious Word of God, and the Spirit’s power for practical life, or the character of the meek and lowly Jesus, but rather their definitions and views about the Lord, or about the Holy Spirit.
The Lord sent the believers, forth to “preach the Word,” to speak “all the words of this life. The aim was reformation of life by the power of God, and it was wrought, too, wherever the Word was received as the Word of life. Very soon after the days of the apostles, however, and even in their days, departure from the faith and disputing about words came in, and the result is seen in the controversies of these times, which led up to the Papacy and the supremacy of human authority over the Divine.
And as it was not to become partakers of the life and to lead into deeper holiness that debates and strife’s were inaugurated and councils met to thresh out human theories, so, too, there was a second motive at work. The theory represented a cause, and it was the aim of the promoter to lift himself into place of power or position of honor as leader of a following. The pride of opinion and the love of power are everywhere apparent in the whole sad story.
Human nature is the same in all ages. The natural man is a fighter. If he be a religious man, still unredeemed from the state of nature, he will love religious strife. Paul's two epistles to Timothy show how this element caused trouble in the apostolic church. It was the beginning of the “falling away.” Of the temperament of the theological fighter the Lord said by the apostle: “He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife’s of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputing by men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.” Yet the typical controversialist is the one who thinks he knows, and he excuses all the strife by urging his fervor for truth. It is difficult to explain to such the difference between firmness for the truth and contentiousness about theories of truth. But it is the difference between preaching the truth to win souls to the Lord, and arguing to convince some one of the superiority of a certain view, which really means of one’s own superiority.
The contentious man preaches a loud sermon on human weakness, and one of the lessons of these church councils of old time is that the heart is verily deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. If the enemy cannot altogether keep men indifferent to truth, he next endeavors to pervert the right way, or to draw away the vital godliness and the warmth of the first love, leaving only the shell and form of the truth, and setting every wind of doctrine going for men to discuss and strive about. No one is so difficult to help as the one to whom the name of Jesus suggests but a theory about His nature. Mention of conversion brings at once an abstruse definition or a special view about the new birth. So it goes, and the religious life is but a cabinet of ticketed theological specimens.
The faith of Jesus is not a cabinet of fossils but a growing garden, each plant rooted in the Word and growing up into the sunlight of God’s love. Such a garden the Lord will plant in every heart surrendered unconditionally to Him. Truth in the inward parts, the law of righteousness written in the heart, the fruits of the Divine nature blossoming in the life; this is knowing God. The Father is the husbandman. Let Him do the planting and the rooting out. And “every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted,” said Jesus, “shall be rooted out.” And the plants of the Lord’s planting cannot be tied up to the stakes of human creeds and definitions.