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The Set of the Sail
By A. W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1986 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
The Set of the Sail
That religion lies in the will is an axiom of theology. Not how we feel but what we will determines our spiritual direction. An old poem states it for us:
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow;
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Though we do not hear much of it in this age of spineless religion, there is nevertheless much in the Bible about the place of moral determination in the service of the Lord. "Jacob vowed a vow," and it was the beginning of a very wonderful life with God. The following years brought a great many vicissitudes, and Jacob did not always acquit himself like a true man of God, but his early determination kept him on course, and he came through victorious at last.
Daniel "purposed in his heart," and God honored his purpose. Jesus set His face like a flint and walked straight toward the cross. Paul "determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," and in that determined spirit ignored the learned philosophers, preached a gospel that was accounted foolishness and earned himself a reputation for ignorance, though he was easily the greatest brain of his generation.
These are only a few of the many men and women of the Bible who have left us a record of spiritual greatness born out of a will firmly set to do the will of God. They did not try to float to heaven on a perfumed cloud, but cheerfully accepted the fact that "with purpose of heart they must cleave unto the Lord."
In the kingdom of God what we will is accepted as what we are. "If any man will," said our Lord, "let him." God does not desire to destroy our wills, but to sanctify them. In that terrible, wonderful moment of surrender it may be that we feel that our will has been forever broken, but such is not the case. In His conquest of the soul God does not destroy any of its normal powers. He purges the will and brings it into union with His own, but He never breaks it.
In the diaries of some of God's greatest saints will be found vows and solemn pledges made in moments of great grace when the presence of God was so real and so wonderful that the reverent worshiper felt he dared to say anything, to make any promise, with the full assurance that God would enable him to carry out his holy intention. The self-confident and irresponsible boast of a Peter is one thing and is not to be confused with the hushed and trustful vow of a David or a Daniel. Neither should Peter's embarrassing debacle dissuade us from making vows of our own. The heart gives character to our pledges, and God knows the difference between an impulsive promise and a reverent declaration of intention.
Let us, then, set our sails in the will of God. If we do this we will certainly find ourselves moving in the right direction, no matter which way the wind blows.CHAPTER 2
The Power of Silence
There are truths that can never be learned except in the noise and confusion of the marketplace or in the tough brutality of combat. The tumult and the shouting teach their own rough lessons. No man is quite a man who has not been to the school of work and war, who has not heard the cry at birth and the sigh at life's parting.
But there is another school where the soul must go to learn its best eternal lessons. It is the school of silence. "Be still and know," said the psalmist, and there is a profound philosophy there, of universal application.
Prayer among evangelical Christians is always in danger of degenerating into a glorified gold rush. Almost every book on prayer deals with the "get" element mainly. How to get things we want from God occupies most of the space. Now, we gladly admit that we may ask for and receive specific gifts and benefits in answer to prayer, but we must never forget that the highest kind of prayer is never the making of requests. Prayer at its holiest moment is the entering into God to a place of such blessed union as makes miracles seem tame and remarkable answers to prayer appear something very far short of wonderful by comparison.
Holy men of soberer and quieter times than ours knew well the power of silence. David said, "I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue." There is a tip here for God's modern prophets. The heart seldom gets hot while the mouth is open. A closed mouth before God and a silent heart are indispensable for the reception of certain kinds of truth. No man is qualified to speak who has not first listened.
It might well be a wonderful revelation to some Christians if they were to get completely quiet for a short time, long enough, let us say, to get acquainted with their own souls, and to listen in the silence for the deep voice of the Eternal God. The experience, if repeated often enough, would do more to cure our ulcers than all the pills that ever rolled across a desk.CHAPTER 3
The Truth's Most Powerful Ally
The most effective argument for Christianity is still the good lives of those who profess it.
A company of pure-living and cheerful Christians in the community is a stronger proof that Christ is risen than any learned treatise could ever be. And a further advantage is that, while the average person could not be hired to read a theological work, no one can evade the practical argument presented by the presence of holy men and women.
To the sons and daughters of this tense and highly mechanized age a holy life may seem unpardonably dull and altogether lacking in interest, but among all the fancy, interest-catching toys of the world a holy life stands apart as the only thing slated to endure.
"The stars make no noise," says the Italian proverb; yet they have outlived all man's civilizations and in their unassuming silence have shone on through the centuries, preaching their simple doctrine of God and enduring things. Francis of Assisi composed some sublime hymns and preached some quaint sermons, but for none of these is he known and by none of these has he captured the moral imagination of mankind. The utter purity of his life it is which has won him a lasting place in the hearts of every seeker after God.
The Church in America suffered a greater loss than she has since discovered when she rejected the example of good men and chose for her pattern the celebrity of the hour. Human greatness cannot be determined by popularity polls nor by the number of lines any man rates in the public press. It is altogether unlikely that we know who our greatest men are. One thing is sure, however—the greatest man alive today is the best man alive today. That is not open to debate.
To discover the good great man (granted that it would be to our profit to do so) would require more than human wisdom. For the holy man is also the humble man and the humble man will not advertise himself nor allow others to do it for him. Spiritual virtues run deep and silent. Like the tide or the pull of gravitation or the shining of the sun, they work without noise, but their gracious ministrations are felt around the whole earth.
The Christian who is zealous to promote the cause of Christ can begin by living in the power of the Spirit and so reproducing the life of Christ in the sight of men. In deep humility and without ostentation he can let his light shine. The world may pretend not to see, but it will see, nevertheless, and more than likely it will get into serious trouble with its conscience over what it sees.CHAPTER 4
We Are Committed to the Whole Message
To many observing persons today it appears that conversion does not do for people as much as it once did. Too often the experience passes, leaving the seeker unsatisfied and deeply disappointed. Some who are thus affected, and who are too sincere to play with religion, walk out on the whole thing and turn back frankly to the old life. Others try to make what they can out of a bad bargain and gradually adjust themselves to a modified and imperfect form of Christianity spiced up with synthetic fun and enlivened by frequent shots of stimulants in the form of "gimmicks," to give it relish and sparkle.
The knowledge that revival campaigns can come and go without raising the moral level of the cities and towns where they are held should surely give us serious pause. Something is wrong somewhere. Could it be that the cause back of this undeniable failure of the gospel to effect moral change is a further-back failure of the messenger to grasp the real meaning of his message? Could it be that, in his eagerness to gain one more convert, he makes the Way of Life too easy? It would seem so. In other times it was not an uncommon thing to witness the wholesale closing of saloons and brothels as a direct result of the preaching of the message of Christ in revival campaigns. Surely there must have been a difference of emphasis between the message they preached in those days and the ineffective message we preach today.
To allow the gospel only its etymological meaning of good news is to restrict it so radically as actually to make it something it is not. That "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" is good news indeed. That He, having by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens from which exalted position He mediates grace to all believers, is wonderful, heartening news for the sin burdened race. But to limit the Christian message to this one truth alone is to rob it of much of its meaning and create a bad misunderstanding among those who hear the resultant preaching.
The fact is that the New Testament message embraces a great deal more than an offer of free pardon. It is a message of pardon, and for that may God be praised; but it is also a message of repentance. It is a message of atonement, but it is also a message of temperance and righteousness and godliness in this present world. It tells us that we must accept a Savior, but it tells us also that we must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. The gospel message includes the idea of amendment, of separation from the world, of cross-carrying and loyalty to the kingdom of God even unto death.
To be strictly technical, these latter truths are corollaries of the gospel, and not the gospel itself; but they are part and parcel of the total message which we are commissioned to declare. No man has authority to divide the truth and preach only a part of it. To do so is to weaken it and render it without effect.
This is more than a mere splitting of definitions. It has real consequences among Christian workers and, what is more serious, it has consequences among the trusting seekers who come to these workers for counsel. To offer a sinner the gift of salvation based upon the work of Christ, while at the same time allowing him to retain the idea that the gift carries with it no moral implications, is to do him untold injury where it hurts him worst.
Many evangelical teachers insist so strongly upon free, unconditional grace as to create the impression that sin is not a serious matter and that God cares very little about it. He is concerned only with our escaping the consequences. The gospel then in practical application means little more than a way to escape the fruits of our past. The heart that has felt the weight of its own sin and along with this has seen the dread whiteness of the Most High God will never believe that a message of forgiveness without transformation is a message of good news. To remit a man's past without transforming his present is to violate the moral sincerity of his own heart. To that kind of thing God will be no party.
We must have courage to preach the whole message. By so doing we shall undoubtedly lose a few friends and make a number of enemies. But the true Christian will not grieve too much about that. He has enough to do to please his Lord and Savior and to be true to the souls of all men. That may well occupy him too completely to leave much time for regrets over the displeasure of misguided men.CHAPTER 5
"I Believe in the Communion of Saints"
Without doubt the most important body on earth is the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Unfortunately the word "church" itself has taken on meanings which it did not originally have and has suffered untold injury in the house both of its enemies and of its friends.
The meaning of the word for the true Christian was fixed by our Lord and His apostles. What they meant by it is what we must mean by it; and no man and no angel has authority to change it.
The simple etymological meaning is easy to discover, but its larger significance must be learned from the New Testament Scriptures. All that is meant by that wondrous word cannot be stated in one sentence, nor in one paragraph, nor scarcely in one book.
The universal Church is the body of Christ, the bride of the Lamb, the habitation of God through the Spirit, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The local church is a community of ransomed men, a minority group, a colony of heavenly souls dwelling apart on the earth, a division of soldiers on a foreign soil, a band of reapers, working under the direction of the Lord of the harvest, a flock of sheep following the Good Shepherd, a brotherhood of like-minded men, a visible representative of the Invisible God.
It is most undesirable to conceive of our churches as "Works," or "Projects." If such words must be used, then let them be understood as referring to the earthly and legal aspect of things only. A true church is something supernatural and divine, and is in direct lineal descent from that first church at Jerusalem. Insofar as it is a church it is spiritual; its social aspect is secondary and may be imitated by any group regardless of its religious qualities or lack of them. The spiritual essence of a true church cannot be reproduced anywhere but in a company of renewed and inwardly united believers.
The Christian life begins with the individual; a soul has a saving encounter with God and the new life is born. Not all the pooled efforts of any church can make a Christian out of a lost man. But once the "great transaction's done" the communion of believers will be found to be the best environment for the new life. Men are made for each other, and this is never more apparent than in the church.
All else being equal, the individual Christian will find in the communion of a local church the most perfect atmosphere for the fullest development of his spiritual life. There also he will find the best arena for the largest exercise of those gifts and powers with which God may have endowed him.
The religious solitary may gain on a few points, and he may escape some of the irritations of the crowd, but he is a half-man, nevertheless, and worse, he is a half-Christian. Every solitary experience, if we would realize its beneficial effects, should be followed immediately by a return to our own company. There will be found the faith of Christ in its most perfect present manifestation.
But one thing must be kept in mind: these things are true only where the local church is a church indeed, where the communion of saints is more than a phrase from the Creed but is realized and practiced in faith and love. Those religio-social institutions, with which we are all too familiar, where worship is a form, the sermon an essay and the prayer an embarrassed address to someone who isn't there, certainly do not qualify as churches under any scriptural terms with which we are acquainted.
The elements of a true church are few and easy to possess. They are a company of believers, the Lord, the Spirit and the Word of the Living God. Let the Lord be worshiped, the Spirit be obeyed, the Word be expounded and followed as the only rule for faith and conduct, and the power of God will begin to show itself as it did to Samson in the camp of Dan.
The church will produce a spiritual culture all its own, wholly unlike anything created by the mind of man and superior to any culture known on earth, ancient or modern. God is getting His people ready for another world, and He uses the local church as a workshop in which to carry on His blessed work.
That Christian is a happy one who has found a company of true believers in whose heavenly fellowship he can live and love and labor. And nothing else on earth should be as dear to him nor command from him such a degree of loyalty and devotion.CHAPTER 6
We Must Try the Spirits
THESE ARE TIMES of moral and religious confusion and it is sometimes hard to distinguish the false from the true.
Our faithful Lord has tried to save us from the consequences of our own blindness by repeated warnings and many careful instructions. It will pay us to give close attention to His words.
Toward the end of the age, we are told, there shall be a time of stepped-up religious activity and frenzied expectation, growing out of the turbulent conditions prevailing among nations. The language is familiar to most Christians: "Wars and rumors of wars ... nation shall rise against nation ... famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.... Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations ... and then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another."
Excerpted from The Set of the Sail by A. W. Tozer. Copyright © 1986 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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