We can know our present properly only as we know our past, and in that past there occurred something disgraceful and tragic, namely, the loss of our moral character and rebellion against our Creator. That we also lost our happiness is of secondary importance, since it is but a result of our alienation from God and not a part of that alienation. The primary work of Christ in redemption is to justify, sanctify and ultimately to glorify a company of persons salvaged from the ruin of the human race.
For the convenience of any who may not be familiar with the words used here I would explain that justify means to declare righteous before God, sanctify means to make holy, and glorify means in effect to remake the entire personality after the image of Christ. This will fit us to dwell eternally in that heaven about which the Bible speaks and which is both a state of being and a location. In that heaven the ransomed will experience unclouded communion with the Triune God; and that will itself assure unalloyed blessedness.
I have just now used the word “ruin” and associated it with the human race. This is not a figure of speech nor is it an extravagant or irresponsible use of a word. The race lies in ruin, spiritually, morally and physically. History and the daily newspaper testify to our moral ruin. The long parade of gods, both virtuous and obscene, and, thousand varieties of vain and meaningless religious practices declare our spiritual degeneration, while disease, old age and death testify sadly to the completeness of our physical decay.
We inhabit a world suspended halfway between heaven and hell, alienated from one and not yet abandoned to the other. By nature we are unholy and by practice unrighteous. That we are also unhappy, I repeat, is of small consequence. Our first and imperative duty is to escape the corruption which is in the world as Lot escaped the moral ruin of Sodom. It is of overwhelming importance to us that we should seek the favor of God while it is possible to find it and that we should bring ourselves under the plenary authority of Jesus Christ in complete and voluntary obedience. To do this is to invite trouble from a hostile world and to incur such unhappiness as may naturally follow. Add to this the temptations of the devil and a lifelong struggle with the flesh and it will be obvious that we will need to defer most of our enjoyments to a more appropriate time.
Against this background of fact our childish desire to be happy is seen to be a morally ugly thing, wholly foreign to the Spirit of the Man of Sorrows and contrary to the teaching and practice of His apostles.
Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian. But only that is truly Christian which accords with the spirit and teachings of Christ. Everything else is unChristian or anti-Christian, no matter whence it emanates.
Strange, is it not, that we dare without shame to alter, to modulate the words of Christ while speaking for Christ to the very ones for whom He died?
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modem civilization affords. He calls them to self-abnegation and death; we call them to spread themselves like green bay trees or perchance even to become stars in a pitiful fifth-rate religious zodiac. He calls them to holiness; we call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the Stoic philosophers.
In a world like this, with conditions being what they are, what should a serious-minded Christian do? The answer is easy to give but hard to follow.
First, accept the truth concerning yourself. You do not go to a doctor to seek consolation but to find out what is wrong and what to do about it. Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Seek through Jesus Christ a right relation to God and then insist upon maintaining a right relationship to your fellow man. Set about reverently to amend your doings. Magnify God, mortify the flesh, simplify your life. Take up your cross and learn of Jesus Christ to die to this world that He may raise you up in due time.
If you will do these things in faith and love, you will know peace, but it will be the peace of God that passes all understanding. You will know joy, but it will be the joy of resurrection, not the irresponsible happiness of men who insist on carnal enjoyments. You will know the comfort of the indwelling Spirit which will often spring up like a well of water in the desert, not because you have sought it but have sought rather to do the will of God at any price.
We can afford to suffer now; we’ll have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves. And our enjoyment will be valid and pure, for it will come in the right way at the right time.