Secret Service Theologian






THE scene is laid in the court of a Roman procurator. The occasion is a public trial. The prosecutors are the religious leaders of the Jews. The accused is a man of their own race and creed. Once a true and zealous "son of the Church "- an honoured and trusted disciple of their strictest and most distinguished school - he has lapsed from orthodoxy and joined "the sect of the Nazarenes." Worse than this he is a ringleader of that apostasy, and has gone to such extremes of heresy as to teach that there is salvation for others than the elect people of God. "Away with such a fellow from the earth" had been their cry, "it is not fit that he should live." If only they were free he would receive short shrift at their hands; but he is under the protection of Roman law, and so they have to suffer the indignity of being compelled to bring him before a court of their Roman masters. But on what charge can he be arraigned? The figment that the Nazarene founded a new religion has not yet been invented. Else their task would be an easy one; for the Empire is intolerant of new religions.
And a mere lapse from doctrinal orthodoxy within a religion authorised by the state, no Roman magistrate will deal with. So they have instructed one Tertullus, a professional pleader, to represent them. And Tertullus, skilfully masking the real ground of the accusation, charges the prisoner with being a disturber of the peace, a public pest, and a man tainted with sedition. Thus it was that his co-religionists described the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Destined to do more to move the world than all the "Caesars" of history, he stood there, an ugly little Jew, not only friendless and hated, but despised. Oriental cruelty had a mode of execution more horrible even than crucifixion. Impaled upon a stake planted in the ground, the victim was left to a lingering death, in the public view. And such is the figure which, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle uses to describe the utter wreck of his physical being. He was "given a stake for the flesh." And thus impaled, as it were, he was "made a spectacle unto the world, o both to angels and to men." His face was battered and scarred, and his muscular frame wrenched and torn, by the stoning at Lystra, when, with arms nerved by religious hate, his cruel enemies had pounded him to death. Till then he had ranked as an orator; but now he articulates with difficulty, and his speech is deemed contemptible.
And he had his own “Gethsemane,” when thrice he put up the prayer that the Almighty power which God had permitted him to administer in healing others might be used to bring himself relief. But the answer came, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And so he had learned to glory in his infirmities. His hideous scars were "the brand marks of the Lord Jesus," whose slave he rejoiced to be.
Sufferings for Christ’s sake refine and humble a man, but they never humiliate or crush him. So with courage undaunted, and with all the dignity which becomes a servant of God, he confronted both his persecutors and his judge. And after traversing explicitly the charges of sedition and disorder, he rolled back upon his accusers their charge of heresy. We can picture to ourselves hig look and gesture as, pointing to those recreant Jews, he exclaimed, "This I confess unto thee, that according to ‘The Way’ (which they call a sect) so worship I our fathers’ God, believing all things that are according to the law, and that are written in the prophets."
"The Way." The expression indicates, as Lange tells us, "a certain mode of life and conduct"; or as Canon Cook, with greater fulness, gives it, "a definite and progressive direction of the inner and outer life of man." On the Apostle’s lips it means the true Faith, and a right life. And its occurrences in the Acts of the Apostles give proof not only that it was in common use, but that it was a phrase of the disciples’ own choosing.
What first led the Apostle to "separate the disciples" was that, after his three months’ ministry in the synagogue at Ephesus, certain of the Jews "spake evil of the Way." At Ephesus it was too, that, later on, the pagan idolaters "made no small stir about the Way." Nor was the word unknown to Paul in his unconverted days. The High Priest’s commission given him in view of his Damascus journey, was that "if he found any of the Way, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." And referring to this, when now seized and charged by the Jerusalem Jews, he reminded them that he had "persecuted the Way unto the death." The last occurrence of the word is where we read that Felix, "having more perfect knowledge of the Way," refused to condemn the Apostle on the charges so cunningly devised against him.
At a recent sale of a bankrupt nobleman’s effects, it was mentioned that a beautiful little crystal goblet, which fetched four thousand guineas, had been lying for years unnoticed with articles of common glass, for common use. And so it is with this word "The Way." It has fallen out of notice, and lies neglected and forgotten. And yet it is not only beautiful but useful, for it has no synonym in our English tongue.


GOD has no pleasure in fools, the Book of Ecciesiastes tells us - that wonderful treatise upon the philosophy of life.
"Be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools." "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few." "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools."
Fools are of different types; and, as a reference to the Hebrew will tell us, it is "the fat fool" that is here intended. Not that he is always fat; and if any one assumes that men are fools because they are fat he will soon find out his mistake. But the fat fool is the "type." We all know him. And we are disposed to like him; for he is generally an amiable sort of creature, with no malice, and not a little good nature. If his good resolutions were realised, he would be counted a saint; and if he carried out his projects he might pass for a genius. But he has neither strength of will nor force of character for achievements of any kind.
This is one of many passages of Scripture intended to warn us against trifling with God. It tells us that it is better not to make vows than to make them and then leave them unpaid. It reminds us, moreover, that the God of revelation is the God of nature. For nature is stern and unpitying with fools.
And the revelation of Grace in the Gospel is not, as some suppose, an effort on God’s part to make amends for what they deem His laches and mistakes in bygone ages. Neither is it a setting aside of the great principles of His government.
On the contrary, it is a provision for bringing fallen men to blessing and peace by bringing them into harmony with those eternal principles. God has no pleasure in fools. And Grace has failed of its due effect upon the heart and life if a man does not cease to be a fool when he becomes, in the true sense of the word, a Christian.
"But," some one will exclaim, "are we not told to become fools for Christ’s sake ?" Yes, and people are apt to make this an excuse for playing the fool, which is not at all what it means. A Christian may seem to his fellowmen to be a fool. But it is one thing to be a fool, and quite another thing to seem to be a fool. A man once built a great ship far inland. He must have been reckoned the greatest fool of his day; but as events proved, he was the only wise man. For "things not seen as yet" were realities to Noah. Everybody saw them afterwards when it was too late.
I remember the case of a young man who married a moneyless girl and then sailed for Australia, taking with him his bride and what little money he could scrape together; it was only about £600. When the two families heard that he had used his capital in buying some land in an out-of-the-way place, they said he ought to be shut up in a lunatic asylum. But there was gold in that piece of land, and when, some years later, I met him in London, he was very rich; and the relatives had given up talking about lunatic asylums.
The Christian is a follower of Him who likened Himself to a man that parts with all that he has in order to buy a field, because he knows there is treasure hidden in it. The Christian acts in the present with a view to the future. For he knows that while the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal.
But the "fat fool" is not the worst type of fool. Though his " thoughts" never come to anything, he means well. But the fool who is pilloried in the fourteenth and fifty-third Psalms has thoughts that are positively evil, and they govern his conduct. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." In his heart, mark; for the Bible never contemplates folly so gross as to say it openly. The only atheists are the apostates; for there is no darkness so dense as that which covers us when some strong clear light is quenched.
"I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend and the Talmud than that this universal frame is without a mind." These were Bacon’s words. "The understanding revolts at such a conclusion," is Darwin’s repudiation of the suggestion that "blind chance" could account for "that grand sequence of events" of which biology treats. Herbert Spencer proclaimed this sort of academic atheism; but, here in England at least, notwithstanding the efforts of a clique of second-rank scientists, Spencerism is as dead as its author. As any intelligent thinker can see, his objections to the hypothesis of creation apply with far greater force to his figment of abiogenesis. The word used for "fool" in these Psalms of David has no kinship with Solomon’s fool in the passage above quoted from Ecciesiastes. I wonder whether, when David here wrote the word nabal, his thoughts glanced back to his wife Abigail’s first husband, the man of whom she said, "Nabal is his name, and folly is with him"; the man who was "very great" and very rich, but who was "churlish and evil in his doings," and who repelled David’s courteous appeals with insult. Proud of his wealth and greatness, he despised David. That same night, we read, "he held a feast in his house like the feast of a king." "But it came to pass about ten days after that he died."
In one of his parables our Divine Lord pictures for us a fool of the Nabal type.’ Such an one is "he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." God has a place in the creed of his lips, but the creed of his heart is atheistic; and the creed of his heart finds expression in his acts. So, forgetting the Giver of all his heaped-up blessings, he lays himself out for a life of ease and sensual enjoyment. "But," the parable proceeds, "God said unto him, Thou fool: this night thy soul shall be required of thee." For such a man, to live is self, and to die is loss.
The sixteenth chapter of Luke brings before us fools of both types. It is one of the perverted chapters of the Bible. The popularly accepted version of it may be summarised as follows: A certain rich man had a steward who was accused of robbing him. So he gave him notice of dismissal. The steward then set himself to rob him more flagrantly than ever; and, mirabile dictu, his master commended him for his cleverness.
Never, surely, did rustic preacher propound anything sillier to a company of yokels! And in answer to the ridicule which it naturally excited, the Teacher then propounded another parable, with the moral, "Woe to the rich; blessed are the poor "-thus seeking to cover mere nonsense by pestilent error. Indeed, if error and nonsense were solid, enough has been said and written upon the sixteenth chapter of Luke to sink the biggest ship that ever put to sea! In these parables we have a series of exquisite pictures drawn by the hand of the Master to illustrate the great life-choice. In the prodigal of the preceding chapter we have the case of one who "wasted" his "portion of goods" in the pursuit of selfish and sinful pleasure, but who afterwards repented and was restored. In the steward we have the case of one who wasted his master’s "goods" by unthrift and neglect, but who repented and was forgiven. And in the rich man of the closing parable of the series, we have one who lived for this world and died impenitent. This "steward" was a typical "fat fool." He was "unrighteous" in the sense that he was not a true steward; unrighteous in the sense in which the money is called "unrighteous mammon." Not because it was what men call bad money, but because the best of good money is not "the true riches." He was a listless, easy-going man who let things slide, leaving debts uncollected, and allowing accounts to run on. He was thus wasting his master’s property. It was a case of habitual carelessness, not of definite acts of dishonesty. His dishonesty was of the passive kind.
And what earned for him his employer’s praise was not his dishonesty at all, but his action when brought to book, and dishonesty of any kind was no longer possible. Instead of making enemies of his master’s debtors by suddenly forcing payment of long-standing accounts, he set himself to make them his friends - to place them under obligation to him - by giving them receipts in full for payment in part, making good the balance from his own money. And this, as he said, in order that, when he was put out of the stewardship, they might receive him into their houses.
This is the whole point of the parable. Its lessons are explained by the Lord Himself:
"Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when it shall fail ye may be received into the everlasting tabernacles." It is not meant to teach us that roguery is commendable. The moral is akin to that of the parable of the treasure hid in a field, namely, the wisdom of incurring a seeming loss in order to secure a real gain; of using the present in view of the future; of living in a world which is "passing away," though apparently so real, under the power of that other world which, though unseen, is abiding and eternal.
It is the enforcement, in a higher sphere, of that which is a common-place with "the children of this world." For no man ever achieves success who has not learned to make "today" subordinate to "tomorrow" who is not ready to yield some immediate advantage in order to secure a prospective gain. It is the philosophy of the man who foregoes pleasure for the sake of business, or who parts with his money in order to secure a provision for old age. The opposite extreme is a case like that of Esau, "who, for one morsel of meat, sold his birthright "- bartered his future to secure enjoyment in the passing hour. And the Esaus are many in every age - men and women who give way to some strong passion, or even, it may be, to some passing whim, at the cost of their whole life prospects.
If the popular reading of the parable were right, the words which follow would be quite unmeaning. Rogues are often shrewd and careful in dealing with their ill-gotten gains; but many a man who may be trusted absolutely with what belongs to others is thriftless and careless with his own. And so the Lord adds, "If ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who shall give you that which is your own?" Spiritual gifts are our own: the mammon is entrusted to us as stewards. How false, then, is the notion that the life of the Christian is divided into watertight compartments, the religious being shut off from the secular! The Christian is as really God’s servant in the one sphere as in the other.
And this leads to the final lesson. The Christian is to use the world; but if he is betrayed into using it excessively, it becomes his master. And though mammon be a good servant, it is an evil master. Moreover, "No servant can serve two masters. . . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon." But with the money-loving Pharisee this via media is the ideal life. "Making the best of both worlds," it is called. But this God will not tolerate. We must choose between them, and the next parable is given to guide our choice.

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