MISTAKES CONCERNING GODíS WILL

Chapter 9

That many people suppose themselves to have a knowledge of Godís will, who, at the same time, are mistaken in their supposition, is not to be doubted. History abounds with instances of such errors. Perhaps we shall never be wise enough in this world to know the will of God always, but we may have understanding enough to avoid serious errors in regard to it. Many errors have been made, and are being make, that need not be made, and would not be made, if common sense and sound judgment were displayed in determining what his will is. His will is always consistent with his divine wisdom and his majestic dignity. It is, therefore, always consistent with good common sense. The extremist and fanatic are ever setting up false and impossible standards, and calling them Godís will. Men of sober sense are not misled by such errors.

We shall note a few of the more common types of mistakes concerning Godís will. First, people come to the conclusion that certain things are Godís will which are contrary to, or inconsistent with, his revealed will as expressed in the Scriptures. Nothing is ever Godís will, which is contrary to the principles of righteousness revealed in the Bible, nor which is inconsistent with his expression of his will as found therein. The unchanging God does not declare one principle of truth today and a contrary one tomorrow. God is righteous; so his will is always righteous. Therefore, it can never be his will to do any unrighteous thing, nor to have man do any unrighteous thing.

Men have often argued that it was right to use almost any sort of means to accomplish a desired and good end. It is never right to do wrong, no matter what the purpose. Paul condemned very strongly those who said he taught people to do evil that good might come. We are not authorized to set aside, even temporarily, any principle of righteousness, and to act contrary to it. Therefore, to consider anything to be Godís will which involves setting aside the principles of righteousness, or requires the deviation from right in any degree, is erroneous. Some religious teachers say that it is all right to lie to others if we have mental reservations. They also say that it is according to the will of God that one should lie in order to promote a good end. Speaking on this point, Paul said, ďIf the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?Ē (Rom. 3:7). He makes it plain that even though good should come from his act, the condemnation of God would rest upon him for the unrighteousness of that act. The righteous God can never justify unrighteousness. The use of wrong methods is never acceptable with God.

Doing anything contrary to his Word can never be doing his will. Whatever we may suppose to be Godís will, should be tested by his Word. If it is contrary to his Word, or to the principles of righteousness therein revealed, it is not according to his will and should be rejected. It matters not how sincere people are, if they are mistaken concerning Godís will, their sincerity will not justify them in wrong-doing. Sincerity in a wrong never makes the wrong right---it makes the act less culpable, but it does not make it righteous. Since God has given us his Word as a revelation of his will, we should use it to test all things that we suppose to be his will, rejecting all things that do not agree with it. We should never adopt any plan, purpose, or method that is not consistent with the revealed will of God.

Being too zealous, or being unwisely zealous, often causes people to mistake the will of God. There is a class of zealous persons who are continually making themselves ridiculous, or obnoxious, with their blunders and inexcusable errors concerning Godís will. I have seen persons who had read in the Scriptures that ďall that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.Ē Therefore, they sought and welcomed persecution, and many times brought ridicule and opposition toward themselves through their unwise conduct from people who had no thought of opposing the true principles of righteousness or real Christian conduct. The opposition was not opposition to real Christian service or Christian work, but to the folly of the zealot, who, in his zeal, had lost his senses, and no longer carefully weighed his principles of conduct. When opposition comes to such a person, he does not realize he is only being buffed for his faults, but glories in it as being persecution which he bears for Christís sake.

Persecution which is really for Christís sake may be gloried in, but the glorying in opposition that comes to us because of our own folly is glorying in our own shame. How much of this there is in certain sections of the religious world today! Such persons delight to play the martyr. They have much to say about their persecutions. If they would behave themselves in a way becoming to the gospel of Christ, if they would rid themselves of their mistaken zeal, and use good common sense, they would avoid persecution. Of course, this would leave them nothing in which to glory. This would rob them of their inspiration and make life tame for them. The consistent, sane Christian does not rejoice in persecution from this stand point at all. He pities his persecutors and prays for them. He does not rejoice that he is persecuted, though he may rejoice that he has grace to bear with patience the persecution when it comes, and in quietness to rest in the will of God.

Blind zeal often causes people to have very perverted ideas of the will of God in relation to their conduct toward others. It makes them suppose his will to be exactly the opposite of what it really is. Jesus told his disciples how this blind zeal would work among the Jews. He said that the time would come when ďWhosoever killeth you will think he doeth Godís serviceĒ (John 16:2). We see this manifested a short time later in the murder of Stephen, recorded in the eighth chapter of Acts. We see it characterizing Saul, in his persecution of the Christians, as related in Acts. 9. He verily thought that he was doing Godís service, but he was working directly contrary to Godís purpose and will. The same disposition has been manifested in various religious bodies down through the ages. The Roman Catholics have persecuted millions of true Christians, and martyred tens of thousands of them. Protestants have likewise been guilty. They have persecuted Catholics, and even other Protestants. Today (1925) the Mohammedan thinks it is an act of great merit to kill a Christian, and supposes himself to be acting in complete harmony with Godís will in doing so. No one need make such a mistake as this, for Godís character, as he reveals it, is justice and love, and a just and living God will have a just and loving will. Persecution can never be the outgrowth of such a will. He who does Godís will, will be acting in harmony with Godís character. Whatever, therefore, is contrary to Godís character is contrary to his will.

Another common mistake is to confuse our own ideas with Godís will. An idea may become so fixed in the mind that it comes to have the force of truth, is accepted and taught as truth, and is made the standard for all Christian people, when in reality it has no foundation in the will of God and no support in his Word. We shall note a few errors of this sort, out of a multitude that prevail in the world. I have received a number of letters from persons who teach Christian communism, or the idea that Christians should have all things in common and that there should be no private property among them. This idea is based on the fact recorded in Acts concerning the early Christianís selling their property and while, perhaps, it was in harmony with the will of God at that time under those particular circumstances, we have no intimation that it is Godís will under ordinary circumstances. In fact, the contrary idea prevails throughout the New Testament. Another similar teaching is common; namely, that it is wrong for Christians to own homes. This is taught in the face of the fact that the early Christians owned their own homes so far as they were able, and no word was raised in opposition to it.

Again, there are those who teach that we should sell all property and give it away because the Bible, in a certain place, tells how Jesus said to one man, ďSell that thou hast, and give.Ē We must use discretion in our application of the Scriptures. A command may be perfectly proper under certain circumstances which would be altogether out of place under other circumstances. Jesus saw many other men to whom he gave no such command, and he never expressed it as a general principle. It is the utmost folly to take a command meant to fit only a certain set of circumstances, and try to compel all, under any and all circumstances, to apply it to their lives. There are others who will have no photograph taken, and will allow no decorations in their homes---no pictures, curtains, nor musical instruments. Not content with such extremism in their own personal conduct, they try to bind similar principles upon all other Christians, and they cannot have confidence in these other Christians unless they subscribe to their principles and follow them out. Such teaching is not based on any Biblical principle. It is simply the private idea of a fanatic read into the Scriptures and supposed to be the will of God.

A few years ago I met some men who took the test, ďBe not ye the servants of men,Ē and applied it literally. They would not enter the employment of any man, holding it to be a sin to do so. This was of course, a very convenient doctrine for men who do not like to work. Perhaps many of my readers will remember when certain teachers went through the country, years ago, teaching people to kill their hogs, and to destroy all there meat and lard, saying that it was a sin to eat pork. Such people were quite unaware that the division of animals into clean and unclean, from a religious standpoint, is not brought over in the New Testament. It has no relation to Christians. Jesus made all meat clean, Mark tells us (Mark 7:18, 19, R. V.). (Compare also 1 Tim. 4:4-5; Rom. 14:14). There are others who go even further than this, and teach that it is Godís will that all of us should be vegetarians, eating no meat whatever. Others imagine it to be Godís will that they dress in an outlandish fashion, or in some peculiar way, or that they wear long hair and beard, refraining from shaving. Others use a peculiar form of speech. Almost countless things of this sort are supposed to be Godís will, when they are many times not even consistent with common sense. It is not Godís will that makes us extremists and fanatics if we are such, but our own ideas, and our failure to use the intelligence God has given us.

Many times people mistake their own desires for the will of God. They come to desire something. That desire increases, until presently they become convinced that it is Godís will. The stronger their desire becomes to do a certain thing, or to have a certain thing, the more they are convinced that it is Godís will that it be so. Godís will and our desires may run parallel or contrariwise; so it is needful for us to consider matters quite apart from our own desires. However, desire is often so strong that reason is not allowed to function. To illustrate: Sometimes persons desire to preach, or to go as missionaries when they are utterly without qualifications for such work, having neither the judgment nor the ability required and perhaps being even without a settled religious experience. In fact, this is a frequent characteristic of those who are unsettled in their experience. On the other hand, it is sometimes the reason why the experience is unsettled. God does not call people for such work who have not the necessary fundamental qualifications. They may lack many things, but they must have the background, or the foundation---those qualities that may be developed so as to qualify them for the work. God can add to what we already have, but unless we have the natural foundation he will not build up and develop other abilities.

Sometimes a person gets the idea that he or she could do wonderful things for God if it were not for his or her family. The author knows of at least two cases where individuals got an idea of this sort, and being married, they prayed God to let their companions die so that they might be free for his work. Such a prayer is an insult to God, and reveals an utterly wrong disposition of heart. Jesus said he came to save menís lives, not to destroy them. His will has not changed in this matter since that time. I have known others who desired to be freed from their marital relation by divorce, so that they could do something for God. They felt that it was Godís will that such should be, when God in his Word plainly condemns divorce, except for one cause. Personal desire lay back of the idea of separation, and led directly contrary to the will of God.

We may get our desires so set on something that we want to come to pass, that we decide it is Godís will for it thus to be. There is a test by which we can measure our desires in order to determine whether they are merely selfish desires or whether they are according to the will of God. This is the test: Are we just as willing to have things some other way, if that other way is Godís will? Are we willing to lay our desires in Godís hand and say, ďDo with this desire as thou wilt; if thy wisdom sees a better way, do that wayĒ? If the heart draws back, or rebels and objects to it being some other way, and demands that the desire be carried our, then we may rest assured that our desire is not according to the will of God. If I am desirous of having a thing Godís way, my desire is submitted to him, and I am willing that his wisdom should choose how it will be. When desire points the way and says it must be thus. It is self, not God, that is directing. Strong desire that a thing be as we think it ought to be is not inconsistent with Godís will, if it be submitted to him. So, strong desire of itself is not wrong. It is wrong only when it rebels against God, and demands its own way. When desire says, ďThy will be done,Ē it may distinguish that will. If it does not distinguish it, it will be submissive to it anyway, and instead of being rebellious it will choose Godís way.

We often miss Godís will by getting into a rut and doing things according to an established custom. God works in an infinite variety of ways. He adapts his working to the need He who takes Godís will for granted and follows out the customs of others, is very likely to become formal, and his worship and service will lose that individual quality which gives it real value. Custom often becomes law and stands between the soul and God so that it often hides Godís will from the individual. Let us not be so bound by custom that we fail to inquire for his will. Let us not take Godís will for granted, nor suppose that we shall find a revelation of Godís will for us and go in his path when we are merely stepping in the footsteps of others.

Then, too, we often take Godís will for granted just because we were led in a certain way before, or because some one else had been led in a certain way, or because they followed a certain course. If God did lead us in a certain way at on particular time, under certain circumstances, he may lead us quite differently next time. If, instead of seeking special guidance, we merely repeat what we have done before, we may easily miss his will and perhaps make a serious mistake. We may learn from our past leadings, or the leadings of others; we may take lessons from the example of others. But none of these things will take the place of direct leadings for today. The Holy Spiritís guidance will attend our feet today. His voice will sound in our ears today, if we listen. Perhaps we shall not always have definite leadings. We may not always be perfectly conscious of Godís will, but we shall, nevertheless, have divine guidance if we trust him for it. We shall return to this phase of the subject later on.

Some persons fail to distinguish between Godís will and the impressions that come to them. God does impress the mind, but all impressions are not from God. Many impressions we have, come from our subconscious mind. A thought is forcibly projected into the conscious mind. This thought may be very impressive, but such a thought is not necessarily from God. It may be, or again, it may not be. We must discriminate and distinguish---not merely follow an impression because we have an impression. God has given us a safer guide than mere impressions. Many impressions arise from suggestions. These suggestions may come from individuals or from things. Some may come from Satan as temptations. Very frequently he impresses one to do something which, when we come to examine it carefully, we see would be unwise, or improper. In such a case, the suggestion may be a temptation to us. When we have an impression, the first thing to determine, if possible, is its source. If we cannot determine its source, then we should judge the wisdom and propriety of following it, before acting. ďMen who simply act on untested impulses, even the most benevolent, which spring directly from large Christian principles, may be making deplorable mistakes.Ē Wisdom and judgment are given us to guide us in determining what should be done. An impression is often the dynamic which will stir reason to attention and arouse zeal. Thus it may serve a good purpose, but we should never act lightly and without consideration on impression.

The fanatic takes his impressions as being the will of God, and acts without regard to considerations or results. The wise man ponders. He takes time to consider. He looks forward to the result of his actions. ďThe difference between a fanatic, who is a fool, and an enthusiast, who is a wise man, is that the one brings calm reason to bear and an open-eyed consideration of circumstances all around, and the other sees but one thing at a time and shuts his eyes like a bull in a field and charges at that.Ē

As examples, some of the impressions which actuate people and which illustrate their mistakes are here noted. A lady of intelligence felt deeply impressed that she should leave home and go to a city some distance away in order to do gospel work. Believing this impression to be the will of God, she left her home, left her children in the care of her husband, and spent some weeks going from place to place trying to do ďgoodĒ by teaching people the gospel. She went to a number of places, but things did not work out as she supposed they would. Later she found that she had only followed an impression, and on which was not the will of God. Another instance: A gentleman was awakened in the middle of the night and strongly impressed that he should get up and go to the house of a neighbor. He arose, dressed, and went, but when he arrived he found no one at home. Of course, such an impression did not come from God.

Many impressions are from God. However, we should never act hastily, although we may sometimes need to act without understanding why we act. As an illustration of an impression that came from God, note the following incident: A lady, the wife of a minister, was going to the store to purchase a pair of boots for herself, when she felt strongly impressed not to do so then, but to send the money to another person. She prayed over the matter and sent the money as she felt impressed. When the money reached the other lady, she took it and purchased a pair of boots for herself, which she needed very much. She wrote back to the first lady, thanked her for the money, and told her of the use that she had made of it. Meanwhile, the first lady had receive a present of a pair of boots from another source; so by following her impression both she and the other lady were supplied with the needed boots.

Another instance: A young minister was very much in need of some money. An old lady came to him and said, ďI have fifty cents that I feel God wants me to give to you.Ē The young minister took the money very reluctantly, and went his way. Sometime later he returned to the same place and the same lady said to him on day, ďDo you remember that fifty cents I gave you when you were here before?Ē ďYes,Ē he answered. ďWell,Ē she said, ďthat was fifty cents I had saved to buy some peaches, but I felt impressed to give it to you instead; so I gave it so you, and that same afternoon a man brought me more peaches than I could have purchased for that amount of money.Ē Just by following her impression, both her need and the ministerís were supplied. God will help us to discriminate between those impressions which come from him, the following out of which will glorify him, and those impressions if followed out would lead to evil consequences. Impressions are sometimes one step in the way of divine guidance. We may rest assured that divine guidance will always be in harmony with the Word of God.

We are not to fall into the error of supposing that a conviction of duty or a conception of truth is of divine origin because it is strong, but the true test of the divine origin of either is its correspondence with the written Word, the standard of truth and life. Impressions which are not of divine origin may often be followed with profit, and disregarded with serious consequences. We must carefully determine which are wise to follow.

We note also that dreams and visions often cause people to fall into error. Some dreams and some visions may come from other causes and have nothing divine in them. In fact, divinely given dreams are probably much more-rare than people suppose. Dreams usually arise from natural causes---they come from the functioning of certain parts of the mind while other parts are asleep. One may also see visions with which God has nothing to do. Optical illusions are by no means rare. People see things in the mind, and suppose they see them with their eyes. An instance of this appeared in the press just a few days ago: a number of individuals declared they saw a man moving about near the top of the Soldiersí Monument in Indianapolis and tried to point him out to others, when there was no man upon the monument. Visions, also, are often seen when people are under the influence of narcotics or anesthetics. They are also very common among Spiritualists, and others, even unsaved people, whose mental temperament is favorable to such manifestations. It is not so much what people dream or the visions they see, as the interpretation they give to these dreams and visions, which leads to errors. Many times people have dreams and interpret them to mean certain things, or have others interpret them for them, and they lay out a line of conduct from such interpretations. The sequel often proves them to have been mistaken, and their course of conduct to have been unwise. Just because a dream is vivid does not indicate that it is from God, for often the most striking dreams have no meaning whatever.

Divinely given dreams and visions have some definite characteristics that need not be mistaken. First, the message conveyed is definite. Note Peterís vision of the calling of the Gentiles, and Paulís vision of the call to Macedonia. We see by these that the visions and dreams that God gives, whether by day or by night, are definite, having a definite message to guide the individual in a plain path, and that the revelation is just as plain as the revelation given with some other method. In Peterís case, the symbolism of his dream was explained by the Spirit, so that its meaning was clear and unmistakable. So if God sees fit to communicate a revelation of his will to us in this way, it will not be left in obscurity---the interpretation will not be far fetched. I have been asked to interpret a number of dreams for individuals when they were of such a rambling nature, though perhaps very striking, that it was evident God had nothing to do with them.

God will not give us a dream when he desires to convey a message in order to reveal his will, or give a warning to us, or tell us something else that he desires to get to us for our profiting, without making the dream understandable. To do so would be contrary to Godís wisdom. We may be assured that whatsoever God does is consistent with his wisdom; so he will not leave us in the dark concerning the meaning of any dream or vision that he may give us. Perhaps not more than one dream in ten thousand has any signification; so it is unwise to trust in dreams. If we pray God to give us a dream, we may have a dream, but the fact that we dream then is no indication that the dream is of God. It is unwise to trust in dreams. God can convey truth to the mind much more readily when it is in a state of normal activity than he can through dreams. So he generally uses the ordinary method, and speaks to our intelligence when we are awake and in a state to understand, to reason intelligently, and to draw rational conclusions. Sober, sane, solid individuals give little heed to dreams, while the enthusiast, the fanatic, and the extremist dote on them.

To dream about some person is never sufficient grounds upon which to judge him. In hundreds of instances people have been condemned because some on dreamed something about them, when there were no grounds whatever upon which to condemn them. Serious errors have occurred by following such unwise methods, and souls have suffered severely and unjustly. We need something more definite than dreams upon which to base our dealings with souls. We must know facts. There must be no guesswork.

The way to avoid making mistakes concerning Godís will is to live close enough to him so that he can communicate with our souls directly. We can then have that spiritual feeling and hold that spiritual attitude that makes us responsive to God and gives us an understanding of spiritual things. When we are not sure of Godís will we had better wait until the assurance comes before acting. If action is necessary and the will of God is not known, we may go ahead, trusting him, using our best judgment, and relying upon him to keep us from going astray. When we do this, he is under obligation to guard us from going astray. Thus, we need not be always hesitating. The trusting, obedient soul who is seeking to do Godís will, will no be permitted to go astray, and to act contrary to his will for lack of knowledge of what it is, for God will not be derelict concerning his duty---he will reveal to us and make plain our path before us so far as he sees that it is necessary. However, he guides sometimes when we do not know that he is guiding us. The result is the same, though, and if we avoid making those errors that are commonly made, by using our intelligence and good judgment and by seeking earnestly to know Godís will, we shall be able to walk securely in a safe path.