THE LIFE AND CONDUCT OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN
IT is stated in the Gospel that one day a Jewish lawyer inquired of the Lord Jesus Christ what commandment of the Law of God was the most important of all. In reply Christ said, “Thou 1 shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou 2 shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hangeth the whole Law, and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31). In accordance with this it is said elsewhere in the New Testament: “Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). Love to God produces love towards His creatures, and especially towards mankind at large. The true Christian loves God because he knows that God has first loved him (1 John 4:9-11, 19; Romans 5:5-8), and this love of God weans him from caring for the pleasures and riches of this transitory world (1 John 2:15-17). As this love of God grows in his heart, he becomes more and more zealous in the service of God and in doing good to his fellow-men. He realizes that God is his Heavenly Father, and that in Christ he is God's child (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 2). Hence he trusts God, and strives in thought, word, and deed to honour and glorify Him (Psalms 63:1-8). Whenever he is tempted by Satan, he will say, as did Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9), and whatever he does will all be done to the glory of God and to please Him, not men (Colossians 3:23). As he grows to know and love God more and more, he will be continually thanking and praising Him for all the temporal and spiritual blessings which God gives him, and will show his gratitude and contentment not only by his words, but by his whole conduct (Psalms 34:1; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22).
Another characteristic of the true Christian is that, when he is in trouble or distress in regard to his temporal concerns, he does not rely upon man, but upon God. He does not seek for great wealth or high rank, nor does he feel unduly anxious about his livelihood, but he prays God to bless him in his business, so that his lawful earnings may be sufficient to supply his needs. He feels convinced in his heart that his Heavenly Father cares for him (1 Peter 5:7) and that therefore he may safely cast all his anxiety upon God. He knows that God has opened for him the gate of His spiritual treasure-house in Christ Jesus, and is sure therefore that the Most Merciful One will not leave him destitute of necessary temporal things (Psalms 28:7; Matthew 6:9-34; 1 Timothy 6:6-11).
The Christian is thankful to God for ease and prosperity, knowing that every good gift and every perfect boon comes from Him (James 1:17). But in tribulation, distress, sorrow, pain, persecution, he is patient, knowing that all things work together for good to those that love God (Romans 8:28). He hears it said to him in the words of a good man of old: “Christ's whole life was a cross and a martyrdom, and dost thou seek for thyself rest and joy?” He knows that His Heavenly Father's purpose in permitting him to suffer is to draw him closer to Himself. Hence he is able to rejoice amid tribulation (Romans 5:3, 4, 5; 12:12) and to say, “It is the LORD: let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Samuel 3:18). He remembers that, though living in the world, he does not belong to the world, for, like Abraham, he seeketh “the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10. See also Psalms 37:5; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18; Hebrews 12:5, 6).
The true Christian worships God in sincerity and truth (John 4:24). He desires ever to remain in the consciousness that he is always in God's presence. At all times he turns to God as a child to a loving father, knowing God's care for him. When a child asks his father for anything, he does so naturally, and not in any special form of words. So the Christian is not obliged to use any special formula, or indeed any one sacred language, for he knows that God is ever more ready to hear than man is to pray, and that God's gifts are more than we can either desire or deserve. God knows our needs before we ask, and how ignorant we are of what is best for us. Therefore the true Christian asks for all worldly things which he needs, only with the proviso, “If it be Thy will, O God.” But for heavenly things and spiritual blessings he may freely ask without any condition, knowing that these things are good for him and that God is waiting to be gracious to him. If a man has received new and spiritual birth (John 3:3, 5) and has thus been enlightened by God's Holy Spirit, he will always be singing to God in his heart, and praising Him for His goodness, and holding spiritual communion with Him. Whatever such a man does, he does to God's glory. Knowing that God searches men's hearts and that from Him no secret is hid, he strives to bring every thought into loving subjection to Him. Trusting himself and all his dear ones to God's love and mercy, he enjoys rest and peace of heart and spirit (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 18:1-8; John 16:23; Philippians 4:6, 7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18; 1 John 5:14, 15; James 1:5-8).
In addition to private prayer, Christians generally have prayers in their own houses, when the father of the family gathers his wife and children around him to join him in prayer for forgiveness and blessing, and to read the Word of God together. Moreover, in churches and chapels, at fixed times, especially on Sunday, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, Christians assemble for public worship and to listen to the reading of the Bible and to the preaching of the Gospel by men specially called by God and carefully trained for that office and ministry. Some communities of Christians prefer in public worship to have fixed forms of prayer, thinking these most helpful to the congregation. Others prefer that prayer should be extempore. As God knows all the languages of men, no tongue, not even Greek or Hebrew, is more acceptable to Him for worship than any other. What is necessary, however, is worship in sincerity, in spirit, and in truth. All places are alike holy, if such heartfelt worship as this is offered in them. This only is commanded in the Gospel (John 4:24), not any rite or formula or special posture or place for worship.
A true Christian recognizes all men as his brethren. He desires their well-being as he does his own, and strives to bring it about by doing them all the good he can, in both spiritual and temporal matters (Matthew 7:12; 22:39; 1 Corinthians 10:24). Christ has taught him the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), obedience to which on the part of all men would almost of itself make this earth a Paradise; hence he strives to do to others, not what they do to him, but what he would like them to do. If they are sick, he tends them, if starving, he feeds them, if ignorant of God, he teaches them what Christ has taught him (Matthew 28:19, 20). He loves all men, but especially those that are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10: compare Matthew 23:8; John 13:34, 35). Even his enemies and persecutors he will love (Matthew 5:44; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:5-7), knowing that they are among those for whom Christ died, that some of the bitterest opponents of the Gospel have become Christians at last, and that wicked men are merely lost sheep whom the Good Shepherd longs to save from the wolf (John 10:11-16).
The true disciple of Christ is truthful, upright, kind, and pure (Matthew 5:37; Ephesians 4:25; James 4:11, 12). He endeavours to promote harmony and concord among men (Romans 12:18). He is full of sympathy for the afflicted (Romans 12:15; Hebrews 13:16). He is patient of injury done to himself, committing his cause to God (Matthew 11:29; Ephesians 4:25-32), though the sight of injury done to others, the spectacle of oppression and tyranny, kindles righteous indignation in his heart, and he strives to right the wronged, at whatever sacrifice to himself. Instances have been known of Christians allowing themselves to be sold as slaves, in order that they might bring spiritual help and comfort to those kept in cruel bondage.
The true Christian knows that he was created for God's service, that he is bought with the price of Christ's most precious blood (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23), and that his body is the shrine of God's Holy Spirit because of his faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19). Therefore he does not pollute and destroy himself, body, soul, and spirit, by giving himself up to carnal lusts, but strives by Gods grace to keep himself free from all impurity of both flesh and spirit and to live in holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 5:4; James 1:21). But he does not fancy that, since the establishment of the New Covenant in Christ, certain kinds of food are forbidden, though he carefully abstains from those that are unwholesome, knowing that this is God's will. He knows that a man is not defiled in God's sight by what goes into his mouth, but by what evil overflows from his heart through his lips (Mark 7:14-23). Waste and gluttony are, of course, forbidden to a Christian (1 Corinthians 10:31: compare Romans 14:20, 21; 1 Timothy 4:4, 5), as are drunkenness (Luke 21:34; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18) and all other sinful indulgences of the flesh.
The true Christian shuns every unworthy word and deed, and strives in all things to serve God and do His will (Matthew 16:24; Romans 6:11-23; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; 1 Peter 1:22), endeavouring to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God through the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), because he knows that this alone is of true and lasting value, while earthly wealth and power, for which worldly men strive, quickly fade away from their grasp (Matthew 16:26; Ephesians 1:15; 2:10; Philippians 3:7-16).
Whatever be his trade or business, the true Christian will in it endeavour to please and glorify God, doing his best, avoiding sloth and carelessness, earning his daily bread by his work, if necessary, never running into debt, and remembering that all he has belongs to God, and is entrusted to himself to be used in God's service (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27; Colossians 3:23, 24; 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; 2 Thess. 3:10). In this way, by serving Christ faithfully, he will grow to know and love Him so much that persecution and death will in no manner be able to separate him from his God (Romans 8:35-39). As he advances in the Christian life he becomes more and more like Christ in his character (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Peter 2:9). Being reconciled to God, his will becomes conformed to that of his Heavenly Father. Therefore he receives great spiritual joy and happiness, in spite of earthly trials and sufferings; and even in this life he enjoys a foretaste of the spiritual blessings which are laid up for him hereafter. These are among the results which a true and living faith in Christ produces in a man's heart and life. He has courage to do his duty, for he can say in the fullness of his faith, “I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
But in this world the Christian is as yet by no means made perfect. He is still exposed to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and has to fight against them manfully unto death. Satan cannot conquer him, because he trusts in Christ. The Christian is liable to bodily suffering, like all other men, but the remembrance of the presence of Christ, who Himself bore sorrow and suffering (Isaiah 53:3-5), and has promised to abide with His servants all the days (Matthew 28:20), enables him to endure patiently whatever God permits to befall him. He looks forward to a better home beyond the grave (2 Corinthians 5:1-9; Philippians 1:23), and still more to a joyful resurrection when Christ Jesus shall come again and put down all enemies under His own glorious feet (John 5:21-29; 6:40; 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21).
In the world to come true Christians will know God as He is; they will behold His glory and abide in Christ's presence (Matthew 5:8; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 13:12; Revelation 22:3, 4). They will then possess perfect purity and freedom from all sin, they will inherit a joy and a happiness that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, they will ever dwell in the light of God's favour and blessing. The thought of these things and of God's mercy in saving sinners and bringing them to holiness and eternal happiness leads us to join with the Apostle of the Gentiles in praising God, and saying, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, are all things. To Him be the glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
We have described a Christian as he ought to be, as he would be, if he obeyed the precepts of the Gospel. Our Muslim brothers often contrast with this description the lives of many of the Europeans with whom they meet, and then say that Christianity produces characters as wicked, as selfish, as worldly, as licentious, as any other religion. But if they will thoughtfully consider for a moment, they will see that this is hardly a correct statement. In the first place, many Europeans make no pretence whatever of being Christians. To consider that the words “Christian” and “European” have the same meaning is a great mistake. Secondly, many who profess to be Christians are such outwardly only, not in heart. But Christianity must reign in the heart before it can transform and ennoble the life. The saying “The 3 outward is the superscription of the inward” is not by any means true, or there would be no such thing as hypocrisy. Wiser far is what the Persian poet says:—
“Regard 4 we the conduct and character, then,
Not by look and by word, but by deed, know we men.”
The true Christian is known by his conduct, by his obedience to the law of Christ. If we find a man who disobeys Christ's commands, how can we say that the religion which with his lips he professes is responsible for his evil deeds? An Afghan Ghazi who, when a Jihad is proclaimed, rushes valiantly against the enemy and fights till he is slain, surrounded by a ring of dead foes, exemplifies the religion of Islam from one point of view, just as a Christian medical missionary, who risks and perhaps lays down his life in striving to heal those of a different race and religion who are dying of plague or cholera, shows what a Christian's duty is. Each is acting according to the precepts of his own religion. But were the Ghazi to act like the medical missionary, striving not to kill, but to heal in the Jihad, all would say that he was not a true Muslim, not a true follower of the “Prophet with the Sword”. The tree is known by its fruits. If a man calling himself a Christian act dishonestly or wickedly, even those who are not Christians themselves justly say that he cannot be a Christian. They therefore bear testimony to the nobility and holiness inculcated by the Christian faith. Hence it is that the Apostle says: “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He” [Christ] “is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:7, 8). To find fault with the Christian faith because of the sins of those who disobey it is hardly worthy of wise men. Thirdly, even those who are most bitter enemies of Christianity admit that here and there true Christians are found, who, though themselves conscious of their imperfections, are good, noble, self-denying men and women, and bear true witness to Christ in their lives. Some of these are medical missionaries, others are nurses in our Christian hospitals, others are officers in the army, others are to be found in every honest trade and calling. No other religion at the present time produces such characters, our enemies themselves being judges. What other religion has established hospitals, as in India, Persia, Egypt, and in many other lands? What other faith sends men and women to teach and tend lepers? In what lands other than Christian are vast sums of money raised to relieve distress and feed those who are starving, whenever a famine occurs in any part of the world? What nations have suppressed the slave-trade, abolished slavery as far as their power extends, and even engaged in war, at great cost in blood and money, in order to put down tyrants and free the oppressed ?
Moreover, the effects produced by true faith in Christ are not confined to people of any one nation, race, or colour. In India, Persia, Egypt, China, Japan, and in every other land where the Gospel has been preached, we find examples of men and women who were once hard-hearted and of evil life, but since they became Christians have been so changed that even their enemies admit that they are good, upright, God-fearing people. Many have undergone persecution and been faithful even unto death. Such men are living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3).
There are, unfortunately, some sects of Christians who offer adoration of some kind to the saints and to the Virgin Mary, and who even bow down before images and pictures. But this is contrary to both the Torah and the Injil (Exodus 20:2-5; John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). The New Testament denounces idolatry in no measured terms (1 Corinthians 5:10, 11; 6:9; 10:7, 14; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; 1 Peter 4:3; Revelation 9:20; 21:8; 22:15), and the Old Testament history is full of instances in which God most severely punished Israel for this very sin. As such practices are condemned by the whole Bible, it is untrue to say that Christians are idolaters, just as it would be untrue to bring the same accusation against Muslims because many of them, contrary to the teaching of the Qur'an, offer adoration to the Auliya and other dead men, and in some cases to trees, and to other stones as well as to the Black Stone at Mecca.
The true Christian is the man who follows Christ, and who by his life and conduct bears true witness unto Him. In the Visible Church the Lord Jesus Himself told us to expect that tares would spring up among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). But no wise man will mistake the weed for the corn, the bad for the good. Nor is the forged coin an argument against the acceptance of the genuine in the mind of a merchant who is wise and just.