Effective Christian witness springs from Spirit-filled wells, not from broken cisterns; from a divinely given revelation accepted by faith and acted on in obedience, not from accumulated human wisdom or erudite reasoning.
Israel had forsaken God and the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying that they, “went after worthlessness, and became worthless … for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:5, 13).
Let us beware today lest that which should be a stream of living water proceeding from a Spirit-filled life should in fact prove to be the parched ground surrounding a broken cistern!
In his infinite wisdom God has placed Christians in the world to witness to his saving power. Neither the Christian nor the Church is the agent of redemption, rather they are witnesses to God’s redemptive act in Christ.
Therefore, the Christian and the Church are the channels of the Gospel, the instruments of witness, the repositories of truth to be passed on to others—likened in the Scriptures to wells of living water and streams of blessing. What then can transform a cistern of spiritual life and witness into a broken repository of nothingness? Certainly three things—unbelief, neglect and disobedience.
Unbelief stretches back into the dim shadows of antiquity. “Yea, hath God said”? was the root of man’s downfall in the Garden and continues to blight class rooms and pulpits today.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: … To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are closed, they cannot listen: behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn, they take no pleasure in it” (Jer. 6:9, 10). Do these words spoken through Jeremiah have relevance for our time? Surely they can be applied today!
Jeremiah speaks to us again: “The wise men shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken; lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?” (Jer. 8:9).
Do we not need to hear and heed these words of that prophet: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes; they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you’ ” (Jer. 23:16).
God’s word is not to be trifled with with impunity: “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the Lord.… Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:24, 28).
Do we long for power as we live and as we witness? Then let us pray to be delivered from unbelief, accepting the Holy Scriptures at face value: “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29)?
The sin of unbelief empties the cistern through the crack it has created. Following the cunning devices of men who deny the Bible may cater to our own ego and titillate our pride but the cistern of spiritual power is broken and only the dregs of a sandy futility remain.
Neglect. The first cousin of unbelief is that spiritual indifference which pays scant heed to God’s truth and blithely goes its disinterested way.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells of God’s revelation of his truth through the prophets and then through His Son. He depicts Him as the Creator of the universe, the One who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb. 1:3). Then he exclaims: “Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:1–3).
Neglect and indifference are just as deadly in their effect as open unbelief. We who know the truth—what are we doings about it? for ourselves; for others?
But God holds us responsible for the truth that He has imparted, and neglect in no way invalidates that responsibility.
Disobedience also takes its deadly toll. The cistern of spiritual power is broken by a disobedience which turns its back on the divine command in favor of our own personal preferences. Strange that we recognize the validity of a military command and recognize the necessity of obedience while we regard lightly the divine command and make its execution optional! Judas disobeyed God and his judgment followed (Jer. 29:19).
The writer knows gifted men who once appeared destined to become mighty channels of blessing, only to have the cistern of spiritual power cracked to its very bottom by the sin of disobedience.
Christianity is, thank God, a positive religion and one can mar its witness by emphasizing the negative. But Christianity is also a religion of, “Thou shalt nots,” and woe to him who disregards these warning signs on life’s road!
The zealous Paul had great advantages of learning, citizenship and social standing. But the risen Christ on the Damascus road gave him a commission which ultimately involved giving up all he had counted dear. To Agrippa he said: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19), and he was not.
Suppose Paul had been disobedient. Suppose that he had counted the cost of discipleship and found it too great to pay; what a tragedy for his age and for succeeding generations, for the cistern of his spiritual power would have been broken from top to bottom by disobedience.
Have we been disobedient to the heavenly vision? Has disobedience marred God’s plan for our lives? Are we living right now with no more spiritual power than a broken cistern has water?
Unbelief, Neglect and Disobedience shatter the cistern of life but the cracks often begin with the supposedly “minor” sins of pride, selfishness, temper, jealousy, impurity and other similar sins.
Let any Christian, any minister of the Gospel, ask himself about his greatest need. An honest answer for many will be “spiritual power,” with its attending dependence on organizations, programs, etc. The cistern has been broken but we hate to admit it. The water of spiritual power has drained away and we try to be content with the sands of futile human endeavor.
“He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38).
L. NELSON BELL
Doomsday Week End
DISASTER PREDICTIONS POPULAR—This business of predicting individual or universal disaster has always had a certain popularity.… This superstition (or science) has prevailed since the dawn of man’s history. It can still depress the stock markets of a great Eastern nation, cause travel bookings to fall by 70 per cent.… Since this particular combination of planets has not occurred since the days of GENGHIS KHAN … we may hope that Indian astrologers will not become quite so excited again for a very long time.—London Daily Telegraph.
ACCIDENTAL POSSIBILITY—Who are we to make light of doomsday forecasts in an era marked by man’s mastery of means to destroy himself and his civilization in some nuclear doomsday of his own making? Nor would we have to await another century or so for a similar conjunction of the planets. An accidental triggering of intercontinental missiles might do the job effectively and quickly, not to mention the dreaded possibility of a calculated attack in some cataclysmic Armageddon.—Washington Evening Star.
PROOF COMES TOO LATE—There is a danger in prophecy of disasters; it is one form of prediction that requires some form of spectacular proof. Recall the plight of William Miller, the leader of Second Adventists in America, who forecast the final coming in 1843.—Washington Post.
CHAOS: FULL DETAILS—A London news-vendor’s billboard.
LESS CONCERN—The last time there was such a conjunction of planets was in February, 1524. Astrologers predicted the end of the world. There was panic in Europe, and many people built arks. England was fairly calm. Western astrologers seem less worried this time. By Western computations, there are seven planets aligned, not eight; and they are in the sign of Aquarius, not Capricorn. Even Brigadier R. C. W. G. Firebrace, former President of the Astrological Association and President of the College of Psychic Science, who does use the Eastern zodiac, is much less pessimistic than the Indians.… “No great disaster. But the initiation of a new phase in world affairs. I think it’s going to be a … difficult year.”—London Observer.
THE GOLDEN STREETS—Despite their professed fears that the end is near, Hindu holy men, astrologers, palmists and almanac sellers were looking to an earthly future. Sitting cross-legged offering prophecies, the holy men and others were reaping a rich harvest—in cash.—Associated Press, Detroit News.
FAITH IN ASTROLOGY—Most of the population of the astrology-minded Hindu world expect something dire.… Contrary-minded are Buddhist astrologers who cite the phenomenon as a good omen of peace and prosperity for the Buddhist New Year which begins Monday.… But astrologers the globe over are predicting everything from a rainy weekend to the Last Judgment.… An estimated 30 million Americans have varying degrees of faith in astrology.…—Frederich M. Winship, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
MUSLIM LEADERS DISSENT—Muslim religious leaders … ridiculed the prophecy by Indian astrologers.… Sheikh Ahmed Haridi Mufti, the highest religious authority on Islam, said yesterday that according to the teachings of Islam, ‘judgment day’ will be preceded by “a return to earth of Jesus, the son of Mary.”—Amrita Bazar Patrika (Calcutta), India.
STARS IN THE WEST—Millions of people here, no doubt, will continue to believe … that the stars in their courses influence their life for good or evil. But are they so very different from the men in other countries?… One has only to look at astrological forecasts in the mass circulation dailies in the West and the avidity with which millions of readers turn to these.…—The Times of India (Bombay).
END AFAR OFF—Britain’s Aetherius Society announced yesterday that the world has 30,000,000,000 years to go before it ends.…—National Herald (Lucknow, India).
ASTROLOGY RIGHT OR WRONG—Don’t believe the astrology columns this weekend.… The Ottawa Citizen intends to publish Monday. Watch for the astrology column.—STARE COTE, Ottawa (Canada) Citizen.
ONE LAST FLING—Two 16-year-old boys told authorities today they stole a white Cadillac for a trip to New Mexico because the world was coming to an end.—UPI news item.
THE PREDICTABLE FUTURE—We assert with unprecedented confidence that the world did not end yesterday and will not end today—probably.—San Francisco Chronicle.
THE SCRIPTURE STANDS—We are still alive this morning—the soothsayers and the Jeremiahs notwithstanding.… But as we look at the present-day world, we cannot help recalling the solemn words of the Old Testament: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.… And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth … for the earth is filled with violence.”—The Indian Express (New Delhi).
DOOM WILL COME—The Day of the Lord will come; it will come, unexpected as a thief. On that day the heavens will disappear with a great rushing sound, the elements will disintegrate in flames, and the earth with all that is in it will be laid bare. Since the whole universe is to break up in this way, think what sort of people you ought to be, what devout and dedicated lives you should live! Look eagerly for the coming of the Day of God and work to hasten it on; that day will set the heavens ablaze until they fall apart, and will melt the elements in flames. But we have his promise, and look forward to new heavens and a new earth, the home of justice.—2 Peter 3:10–13, NEB.
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