Ten Shekels and a Shirt (Part 2)
Would I be out of line and order if I were to talk to you for a little while about utilitarian religion and expedient Christianity and a “useful God”? I would like to call attention to the fact that our day is a day in which the ruling philosophy is pragmatism. You understand what I mean by pragmatism, perhaps? Pragmatism means if it works, it’s true. If it succeeds, it’s good. And the test of all practices, all principles, all truth (so called), all teaching, is: do they work? Do they work?
Now, according to pragmatism, the greatest failures of the ages have been some of the men God has honored most. For instance, whereas Noah was a mighty good shipbuilder, his main occupation wasn’t shipbuilding; it was preaching. He was a terrible failure as a preacher. His wife and three children and their wives were all he had. Seven converts in 120 years—you wouldn’t call that particularly effective. Most mission boards would have asked the missionaries to withdraw long before this. I say as a shipbuilder he did quite well, but as a preacher he was a failure.
And then we come down across the years to another man by the name of Jeremiah. He was a mighty effective preacher, but ineffective as far as results were concerned. If you were to measure statistically how successful Jeremiah was, he would probably get a large cipher, for we find that he lost out with the people, he lost out with royalty. Even the ministerial association voted against him and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. He had everything fail. The only one he seemed able to please was God, but otherwise he was a distinct failure.
And then we come to another well-known person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was a failure from the judging of all the standards. He never succeeded in organizing a church or denomination. He wasn’t able to build a school. He didn’t succeed in getting a mission board established. He never had a book printed. He never was able to get any of the various criteria or instruments that we find are so useful. I’m not being sarcastic at all; they are useful. And our Lord preached for three years, healed thousands of people, fed thousands of people, and yet when it was all over there were 120 or 500 to whom he could reveal Himself after His resurrection. And the day that He was taken, one man said, “If all the others forsake you, I’m willing to die for you.” He looked at this one and said, “Peter, you don’t know your own heart. You’re going to deny me three times before the cock crows this morning.” So all men forsook Him and fled. By every standard of our generation or any generation, our Lord was a signal failure.
The question comes then to this: what is the standard of success, and by what are we going to judge our lives and our ministry? And the question that you are going to ask yourself is, “Is God an end, or is He a means?” You have to decide very early in your Christian life whether you’re viewing God as an end or a means. Our generation is prepared to honor with signal honor anyone who is successful, regardless of whether they’ve settled this problem or not. As long as they can get things done or get the job done—”Well, it’s working, isn’t it?”—then our generation is prepared to say, “Well, you’ve got to reckon with them.”
And so we’ve got to ask ourselves at the very outset of our ministry and our pilgrimage and our walk: “Are we going to be Levites who serve God for ten shekels and a shirt? Serve men, perhaps in the name of God, rather than God?” For though he was a Levite and performed religious activities, he was looking for a place—a place which would give him recognition, a place which would give him acceptance, a place which would give him security, a place where he could shine in terms of those values which were important to him. His whole business was serving in religious activities, so it had to be a religious job, and he was very happy when he found that Micah had an opening. But he had decided that he was worth ten shekels and a shirt, and he was prepared to sell himself to anyone that would give that much. If somebody came along and gave more, he would sell himself to them. But he put a value upon himself, and he figured then his religious service and his activities were just a means to an end. By the same token, God was a means to an end.
Now in order to understand the implications of that in the twentieth century, we’ve got to go back 150 years (100 years at least) to a conflict that attacked Christianity. Just after the great revivals in America with Finney, the Spirit of God having been marvelously outpoured upon certain portions of our country, there came an open attack on our faith in Europe under the “higher critics.” Darwin had postulated his theory of evolution, certain philosophers had adapted it to their philosophies, and theologians had applied it to the Scripture. And so about 1850, you could mark the opening of a frontal attack upon the Word of God. Satan had always been insidiously attacking it, but now it was open season on the Book and open season on the Church. Voltaire could declare that he would live to see the Bible become a relic and have its place only in museums—that it would be utterly destroyed by the arguments that he was so forcefully presenting against it.
Well, what was the effect of this? The philosophy of the day became humanism. And you can define humanism this way: humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism, salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. If you’re influenced by someone like Nietzche, who says that the only true satisfaction in life is power, and that the power is its own justification, and that after all the world is a jungle, and it is therefore up to the man who would be happy to become powerful, and become powerful by any means he can use; for it is only in this position of ascendancy—or as we saw last night, in the worship of Molech— that one can be happy. This would produce in due course a Hitler, who would take the philosophy of Nietzche as his working operating principle and guide, and would say of his people that, “We are destined to rule the world, and therefore any means that we can use to achieve this is our salvation.”
Somebody else turns around and says, “Well no, the end of being is happiness, but happiness doesn’t come from authority over people. Happiness comes from sensual experience.” So you would have the type of existentialism that characterizes France today, that’s given rise to beatnikism in America and to the gross sensuality of our country. Since man is essentially a glandular animal whose highest moments of ecstasy come from the exercise of his glands, salvation is simply to find the most desirable way to gratify this part of a person. And so this became the effect of humanism, that the end of all being is the happiness of man.
John Dewey then, an American philosopher influencing education, was able to persuade the educators that there were no absolute standards, and children shouldn’t be brought to any particular standard—that the end of education was simply to allow the child to express himself and expand on what he is, and find his happiness in being what he wants to be. So we had cultural lawlessness, when every man could “do as seemed right in his own eyes” with no God to rule over us. The Bible had been discounted and disallowed and disproved according to what they said. God had been dethroned. He didn’t exist, and He had no personal relationship to individuals. Jesus Christ was either a myth or just a man—so they taught—and therefore, the whole end of being was happiness. The individual would establish the standards of his happiness and interpret it.
Now, religion still had to exist, because there were so many people that made their living at it. So they had to find some way to justify their existence. So back about that time, in 1850, the church divided into two groups. The one group was the liberals, who accepted the philosophy of humanism and tried to find some relevance by saying something like this to their generation: “We don’t know that there’s a heaven. We don’t know that there’s a hell. But we do know this: you’ve got to live for 70 years, and we know there’s a great deal of benefit from poetry, from high thoughts and noble aspirations. Therefore, it’s important for you to come to church on Sunday so that we can read some poetry, so that we can give you some little adages and axioms and rules to live by. We can’t say anything about what’s going to happen when you die, but we’ll tell you this: if you’ll come every week and pay and help and stay with us, we’ll put springs on your wagon, and your trip will be more comfortable. We can’t guarantee anything about what’s going to happen when you die, but we say that if you’ll come along with us, we’ll make you happier while you’re alive.” And so this became the essence of liberalism. It meant simply nothing more than to try and put a little sugar in the bitter coffee of the journey and sweeten it up for a time. This is all that it could say.
Well, now the philosophy of the atmosphere is humanism—the chief end of being is the happiness of man. There’s another group of people that have taken umbrage with the liberals. This group is my people, the fundamentalists that say, “We believe in the inspiration of the Bible. We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. We believe in hell. We believe in heaven. We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.” But remember, the atmosphere is that of humanism. And humanism says the chief end of being is the happiness of man. Humanism is like a miasma out of the pit—it just permeates every place. Humanism is like an infection, an epidemic. It just goes everywhere.
So it wasn’t long until we had this. The fundamentalists knew each other, because they said, “We believe these things!” They were men, for the most part, who had met God. But you see, it wasn’t long until, having said, “These are the things that establish us as fundamentalists,” that the second generation said, “This is how to become a fundamentalist: Believe in the inspiration of the Bible! Believe in the deity of Christ! Believe in His death, burial, and resurrection! And thereby become a fundamentalist.”
So it wasn’t long until it got to our generation, where the whole plan of salvation was to give intellectual assent to a few statements of doctrine and a person was considered a Christian because he could say “uh-huh” at four or five places when he was asked to. If he knew where to say “uh huh,” someone would pat him on the back, shake his hand, smile broadly and say, “Brother, you’re saved!” So it had gotten down to the place where salvation was nothing more than an assent to a scheme or a formula, and the end of this salvation was the happiness of man, because humanism had penetrated.
If you were to analyze fundamentalism in contrast to liberalism of a hundred years ago as it developed—for I am not pinpointing it in time—it would be like this: The liberal says the end of religion is to make man happy while he’s alive, and the fundamentalist says the end of religion is to make man happy when he dies. But again! The end of all of the religion, it was proclaimed, was the happiness of man. And whereas the liberal says, “By social change and political order we’re going to do away with slums, we’re going to do away with alcoholism and dope addiction and poverty, and we’re going to make heaven on earth and make you happy while you’re alive! We don’t know anything about after that, but we want you to be happy while you’re alive!” They went ahead to try and do it, only to be brought up with a terrifying shock at the First World War and utterly staggered by the Second World War, because they seemed to be getting nowhere fast.
And then the fundamentalists along the line are now tuning in on this same wavelength of humanism, until we find it something like this: “Accept Jesus so you can go to heaven! You don’t want to go to that old, filthy, nasty, burning hell when there is a beautiful heaven up there! Now come to Jesus so you can go to heaven!” The appeal could be as much to selfishness as a couple of men sitting in a coffee shop deciding they are going to rob a bank to get something for nothing! There’s a way that you can give an invitation to sinners that just sounds for all the world like a plot to take a filling station proprietor’s Saturday night earnings without working for them.
Humanism is, I believe, the most deadly and disastrous of all the philosophical stenches that have crept up through the grating over the pit of hell. It has penetrated so much of our religion, and it is in utter and total contrast with Christianity! Unfortunately, it’s seldom seen. And here we find Micah, who wants to have a little chapel, and he wants to have a priest, and he wants to have prayer, and he wants to have devotion, because, “I know the Lord will do me good!” And this is selfishness! And this is sin! And the Levite comes along and falls right in with it, because he wants a place. He wants ten shekels and a shirt and his food. And so, in order that he can have what he wants and Micah can have what he wants, they sell out God!—for ten shekels and a shirt.
This is the betrayal of the ages! And it is the betrayal in which we live. I don’t see how God can revive it until we come back to Christianity as in direct and total contrast with the stenchful humanism that’s perpetrated in our generation in the name of Christ. I’m afraid that it’s become so subtle that it goes everywhere. What is it? In essence, it’s this: This philosophical postulate—that the end of all being is the happiness of man—has been sort of covered over with evangelical terms and Biblical doctrine, until God reigns in heaven for the happiness of man, Jesus Christ was incarnate for the happiness of man, all the angels exist, everything is for the happiness of man! And I submit to you that this is unChristian! Isn’t man happy? Didn’t God intend to make man happy? Yes. But as a byproduct, and not a prime product!