Part 1 of a four-part series. That which is “dead” is inert, inoperative, and lifeless.
Polly approached a “City Gent” as he was leaving the Bank of England, attired in bowler hat, pin-stripe suit, and neatly furled umbrella.
“Excuse me, sir. May I have a couple of minutes to ask a few questions? I’m doing research on Christian belief patterns.”
Man. “Yes, by all means. Fire away.”
Polly. “Do you recall having done anything wrong in your life?”
Man. “Ha, Ha! Yes, but don’t we all?”
Polly. “Would you describe that as sin?”
Man. “Well, that’s an old-fashioned word, not very popular these days. But, yes, I suppose it is.”
Polly. “Would you describe yourself as a Christian?”
Man. “Well, I’m British, so yes, I suppose I must be. I’m certainly not a Hindu or a Moslem.”
Polly. “Do you read the Bible?”
Man. “Well, yes, we do actually have one at home. I find it a help sometimes with the Times crossword. Quotations, you know.”
Polly. “Do you believe that Christ came into the world to die for man’s sin?”
Man. “Funny you should ask that. It reminds me of what my old Granny used to say, and yes, in the Sunday School. Well I’m blowed. That takes me back a bit. We used to sing a little rhyme that started something like, ‘Jesus died for all the children.'”
Polly. “Do you go to Church?”
Man. “As a family, we always go for Harvest Festival and the Carol Service at Christmas.”
Polly. “Thank you, sir.”
Man. “Not at all. Glad to be of help. And good luck with your research.”
Charles Dickens, in 1854, aimed to expose tyrannous utilitarianism in his novel, “Hard Times.” His apostle was named Thomas Gradgrind, a name that singularly fitted his temperament and activities as a school teacher in CokeTown, identifiable as the Preston in Lancashire of Dickens’ day. Here is a brief quote from the beginning of the book.
Thomas Gradgrind was a man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.
“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. . . . Stick to Facts, sir!”
“Girl number twenty, give me your definition of a horse,” he said.
Sissy Jupe was thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.
“Girl number twenty unable to define a horse.” Gradgrind’s square finger suddenly lighted on Bitzer who forthwith stood up.
“Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty four grinders, four eye teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring. In marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.”
“Now girl number twenty, you know what a horse is,” said Mr. Gradgrind.
These two fictitious anecdotes pave the way for a few pertinent observations. We notice that the City Gent testified to his belief in sin, and what is more he was ready enough to accept that sin existed in his own life. Also, he believed himself to be a Christian, reinforced by the fact that he owned a Bible, and went to Church regularly, twice a year. Perhaps most important of all, he believed that Christ came into the world to save sinners, a fact he remembered from his early childhood days.
Most Evangelicals would be quick to dismiss this man as a non-Christian, even though he mildly acquiesced to Christian rhetoric and was ready enough to go along with Polly’s questions. What therefore constitutes a true born-again believer?
My article is headed “Dead Truth.” The City Gent possessed several items of Dead Truth. The items he said be believed in were to him utterly lifeless, because the Truth had not done its work in his heart. There had been no miraculous change. There had been no Spirit-led conviction of sin, and the impartation of New Life. Even though hebelieved certain Truths, this type of belief never constituted him as a true believer.
This Dead Truth may therefore be likened to what happened in Dickens’s school room, under the tutelage of Thomas Gradgrind. The Truth had degenerated into nothing more or less than Facts. Now Facts may best be sought in an Encyclopaedia. It is brim full of Facts. But encyclopaedias do not have Life. So also the man whose head is swimming with Facts, so much so that his hearers are often sleepy by the time he’s finished regaling them with his encyclopaedic knowledge.
We therefore learn this important lesson, that we are not saved by Facts, nor regenerated by Knowledge, neither does the Truth cause the Son of God to smile upon us with pleasure. There has to be something magic, somethingunworldly, that causes the Truth to become alive to us, to convict us, to shut our mouths and squelch the great volume of Facts that buzz around in our brain. Best of all, to bring us New Life in Christ. Nicodemus, learned though he was, (the Master described him as a Doctor in Israel) tried to assess Jesus’ words in a futile human way by talking about re-entering his mother’s womb, impossible though he knew that to be. Later on, he came to know the Truth in a real way, but at that stage he was non-plussed.
The Bible tells us that the Devil and his cohorts are intent on keeping Gradgrinds in the Churches, feeding flocks with non-consumables, sending them back to their homes having enjoyed the learned messages, full of Dead Truth. Daniel was told that the Little Horn “cast Truth to the ground,” (Dan.8:12) and Isaiah was told that “Truth is fallen in the street, yea, Truth fails.” (Isa.59:14-15) Hosea prophesied, “There is no Truth, nor Mercy, nor Knowledge.”(Hos.4:1) These truly spiritual men understood what the Spirit of God was saying to them. But that is only the negative side of things. We also learn that “Truth shall spring out of the earth.” (Ps.85:11) And we are told that“God desires Truth in the Inward Parts” (not emblazoned on our coats for all to see. Ps.51:6) Finally we learn that“Jerusalem shall be called a ‘City of Truth.'” (Zech.8:3)
When Jesus comes into our lives, He comes as “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) The Way is the process of bringing conviction of sin, the Truth is described by our Lord as “the Truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) In other words, free from sin. Finally, He is the Life, the Life that He imparts to us by His Spirit. The three items are therefore in a logical sequence whereby the Holy Spirit causes us to be “Born Again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Living and abiding Word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23) It is Living! Yes, the Word of Truth is Living, and when God applies it to our hearts it quickens us by His Spirit.
How important it is for God’s Ministers to be aware of this, not to fill the minds of their flocks with non-consumables, but to impart to their hearts the Living Word of God. No doubt the Gradgrinds will be honoured by men, especially those who fill the pews with their unsaved minds, but sadly, this is also true of many who have tasted the good word of God. Thinking they have received a good sermon, they have merely had their minds filled with some of Gradgrind’s Facts. God’s true teachers may find themselves ostracised for imparting Living Truth. It always brings conviction, and the Sons of Adam are often unready to allow the Life-giving Truth to enter their hearts. But there will always be those who are enlivened, uplifted, and filled with worship when they hear Living Words.
Dead Truth is defined as Facts, as required by Gradgrind. Living Truth is defined as the Knowledge of God imparted by His Holy Spirit.
Thus says the Lord, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)