Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: the heart of man

The value of history

Some folks dream of the coming of a golden age, when the gospel will have created a state of peace and benevolence on earth almost approaching that of heaven. Most of us dismiss such ideas as folly, the pride of man.

What about the good old days? Many folks believe things were better in the past. Such an idyllic view of the past is evidence of a selective memory which chooses to ignore the wars, oppression, violence, immorality and cruelty that have marked the history of mankind. There are sincere Christians who think that is how history should be taught; future generation will be better off if they learn nothing about wars and conflicts of the past. I believe there is a fatal flaw in that line of thought.

Most people consider their own country to be the greatest example of human civilization. China, for example, has called itself the Middle Kingdom since 1,000 BC, the centre of the world around which everything else revolves. There is a similar tendency in the USA. I am a Canadian, but my roots in the USA go deep. When my grandparents came to Canada with their sons in 1908, the Goodnough family had been in the USA for 270 years, going back to before there was a USA.

When we reminisce about a golden era in US history, let us not forget that there has never yet been a golden era for black people, or native people. We put people of the past on pedestals, telling ourselves that they were the very models of Christian public figures. Take the Puritans of New England, for instance. (This includes my ancestors who landed in Massachusetts 18 years after the Mayflower.) They were such kindly, peace-loving people; didn’t they have the wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the native people? That was nice, to be sure; but it didn’t last.

The Puritan settlers believed that they were God’s elect and therefore could take any land they wanted for their growing settlements with no consideration for the original residents. Their attitude eroded the trust of the Indian peoples and finally led to what is called King Philip’s War in which thousands of Indians were killed.

Neither did they tolerate any variation in Christian doctrine. When Roger Williams, one of the Bay Colony (Boston) preachers, advocated believer’s baptism he was forced to flee for his life in the dead of winter, with only the clothes on his back. The few Quakers in the colony talked about non-resistance. They were expelled from the colony, but some came back. Two of them were burned at the stake.

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Roger Williams (right) being sheltered by Native Americans after fleeing Massachusetts Colony to avoid arrest, 1636. Image from Shutterstock 

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Thomas Jefferson, 1819. Jefferson considered Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher of all time, but rejected anything that smacked of the supernatural, or the divinity, the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which begins by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson most definitely did not believe that black people were created equal, nor had they any unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lafayette urged Jefferson on several occasions to free his slaves. His response always was that black people were not fit for freedom. That did not prevent him from fathering six children by one of his slaves. Four of those children lived to adulthood and were the only slaves that Jefferson ever freed.

Those children were only one eighth black ancestry. Their great-grandmother was an African woman who was made pregnant by a British ship captain. The daughter who resulted grew up as a slave on a Virginia plantation and was in her turn made pregnant by the plantation owner and gave birth to Sally Hemings. When her master’s daughter married Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings went to Monticello. When Jefferson’s wife died, he turned to Sally Hemings to satisfy his carnal lust. She was only 14 at the time, a half-sister to Jefferson’s wife and three quarters white ancestry. As a slave, she had no choice in the matter; this cannot be termed a romantic relationship.

For years people have argued passionately that someone else was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. A few may still hold to that argument, but the evidence seems conclusive that Jefferson was the father.

Slavery was brutal, people were forced to work long and hard, with poor food and whipped savagely if they faltered or dared to ask questions. From the time slavery ended until well into the 20th century, at least 3,000 black people were lynched in the US South. These were not clandestine events, carried out in the dark of night. They were publicised, postcards with photos of lynchings were sold in the stores, in one case an excursion train was arranged for people wanting to witness a lynching. Law enforcement officers looked the other way.

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Anti-slavery poster of 1780

In the “Red Summer” of 1919 there were anti-black riots in more than three dozen cities across the USA. In 1943, with auto plants converted to war production, the Packard plant in Detroit promoted two black workers to supervisory positions. The white workers walked out and a riot ensued as the news spread. In the evening, unemployed white youth traveled to black residential areas, looting and vandalizing homes. The police ignored the white vandals and arrested black men trying to protect their homes and families.

It is good for us to read history, especially those parts of history that jar our illusions of the sweetness and light of our forefathers. We are not better than the people of past generations. The most important lesson of history is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My heart is no different than the heart of any of the villains of the past. It is when I ignore the true nature of my heart that I become a villain, while believing that I am doing some great and noble good. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Solomon said: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Desperately wicked

Try to put yourself in the position of a slave owner in the antebellum south. a slave owner whose livelihood and position in society hinged on your ability to get the maximum amount of work out of your slaves at a minimum cost. You considered yourself to be a Christian, but, like everyone around you, you believed that these black-skinned creatures who worked in your fields were more like domestic livestock than human beings. Some even said that they had no souls. Therefore you were justified in driving them to work harder, whipping them if they could not or would not work, killing them if they rebelled or tried to escape. Could you be that person?

Or could you be a guard in a Nazi death camp? For years you have been bombarded with information in the media, in movies, in schools, books and pamphlets that revealed how Jews were the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. The future of Germany depended on ridding itself of such degraded people. Could you order them to do meaningless, repetitive tasks, beat them when they stumbled under the load, herd them into the gas ovens?

Maybe you could have been a member of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The future of Cambodia depended on it becoming an egalitarian agricultural society. Could you have herded people out of the cities, young and old, men and women, healthy or sick, and forced them to march for days into the jungle, caring nothing for those who perished along the way?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Do we know the depravity of our heart? The people I have described were no different than you and me. Under the same circumstances we would have been capable of doing the same things, with never a twinge of conscience.

We would like to think otherwise, to think that we are better than that. We are not. Those were intelligent, civilized people, capable of showing much kindness in other areas of their life. But their hearts deceived them into believing that some people were not worthy of kindness, respect or compassion.

We are all good people until we are put to the test. The only thing that will make the outcome different when we are tested is to listen to the gentle prompts of the Holy Spirit of God.

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Well, I have tried to keep myself pure. I read the Bible every day and hardly ever miss a church service. I have been married to the same woman for almost 47 years; it’s been at least 45 years since the last time I got drunk; I quit living in a cloud of cigar smoke about the same time – do you suppose there might be some connection between those three things?

But – Jesus was talking about the pure in heart. Do good things that I do prove that the thoughts and intents of my heart are pure?  Solomon asked: Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The prophet Jeremiah said: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

So here I am: I want to be pure in heart, but I can’t make it happen. Jeremiah described my predicament many years ago:  O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

The answer is found in the New Testament, but it is also there in the Old. David prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

The path to preparing my heart so that I can see God must begin with God. The Apostle Paul described it this way: For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

The Holy Spirit dwelling in us will do what we are otherwise incapable of doing. It is being spiritually minded that makes us pure in heart.

The only hope

A few days ago Montreal daily La Presse published a cartoon by Serge Chapleau, with two frames, entitled Teenage Crisis 2000 and Teenage Crisis 2014. Both frames picture a young man with a surly, vacant expression, wearing cargo pants that appear in imminent danger of descending to his ankles. In the first frame he is holding a skateboard; in the second he is holding a Kalishnikov and wearing an ammunition vest. It is an apt comment on the distemper of our times.

Young people are conscious that something is rotten in the state of our world. They feel an apprehension of a great conflagration that will sweep away the detritus of our corrupt world. Some opt to make as much money as they can before the fire reaches them, others opt to have as much fun as they can, and still others feel compelled to take an active part in bringing on the conflagration.

Several generations ago, communism was the great hope of those disenchanted with the emptiness of materialistic society. Communism promised the great hope of an intense class struggle which would be followed by a reborn humanity and a classless society. Alas, communism only produced more of the same envy, greed and class consciousness.

Now the same sort of disillusioned young people are turning to Islam as the great hope for righting the wrongs of our world. Eventually they will learn to their sorrow that Islam has no power to produce a better kind of person. The savagery and cruelty of the groups waging jihad should be sufficient evidence to show that jihad is not going to make the world a kinder, gentler place.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah identified the root of the problem – the depravity of the human heart. No philosophy, political ideal, or religion that does not admit this problem, has a hope of improving our world.

Ezekiel foretold the solution: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The birth of Jesus Christ was the first step in God’s plan to make it possible for mankind to be transformed from the inside out – one person at a time.

There are no shortcuts. Forced conversion makes no change to the depraved heart. Watering down the cost of redemption makes it ineffective. The depravity of the human heart could only be dealt with by the crucifixion of the only man whose heart was not depraved. The depravity of our own heart requires us to deny ourselves (the natural inclinations of our depraved heart), take up our cross daily (dying daily to those inclinations) and following Jesus. We must deal with our depraved heart to allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives and incline us to live as Jesus lived.

There is a very real danger that, after we have become a Christian and been set free from the compulsions of our depraved heart, we will begin to see ourselves as somehow superior to other people. This is part of the deceptiveness of our heart that Jeremiah spoke of. We cannot help anyone else find their way to freedom if we forget that we are no different than they are. The only difference is that we have washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to govern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

The failure of communism and Islam to provide any real benefit to humanity should be evident by now. The world is waiting for something that does work. Many will find it too hard. The gate into the kingdom of God is narrow, but it is still the only real hope of mankind.

The law of liberty

From time to time, there are folks who propose that in order to achieve true liberty and happiness we need to do away with all laws and governments.  This belief is called anarchy and a little more than 100 years ago it was quite popular.  After anarchists assassinated King Umberto of Italy, King Carlos of Portugal and President McKinley of the USA, most people were able to see the dangers inherent in anarchy.

Nevertheless, I suspect that many people’s dream of an ideal world would be one in which all other people were governed by the law, but they were free to do as they pleased.  This fails to account for what can be called natural laws.  If we throw a ball in the air, it will come down again, on our head if we happen to be standing in its path.  If a man drives his car down the left side of the road when oncoming traffic is driving on the right side, someone is going to be hurt.  If a man is known to tell lies, he will probably not be believed when he tells the truth.  If parents feel that their children are a nuisance when they are small, the children are apt to feel their parents are a nuisance when they become old.  If men and women change partners frequently, have children that they never take the responsibility to raise, they may never know the joys of having grandchildren crawl up on their laps.  The purpose of civil and moral laws is to protect us from the consequences of transgressing the natural laws.

Businesses make rules for the same reason.  Years ago I worked in an auto parts factory.  Production continued round the clock, requiring three crews and three foremen.  Two of the foremen were easy-going, likeable men who allowed their crew members more freedom than was good for them.  The third foreman, Lawrence by name, ran a very tight operation which was not appreciated by all who worked for him.  Some called him Larry, some called him Law.  Since the company had an incentive pay plan based on production numbers, the workers on two of the shifts would often tinker with the settings on their equipment to try to increase production.  If their tinkering didn’t turn out as expected, their foremen didn’t really have the expertise to make the proper corrections.  At the beginning of his shift, Law would go from machine to machine and set them to the optimum settings.  Production figures showed that his shift consistently outproduced the others.

All the foremen were required to have regular safety meetings.  This tended to consist of a five minute reading from the safety manual and 25 minutes of telling jokes.  But not with Law.  I remember one safety meeting after there had been some practical joking happening on the factory floor.  “Do you know how long this horseplay is fun?” Law asked, then answered his own question, “It’s only fun until somebody gets hurt.”  The workers knew he was right, but resented being told.

At one point there was a problem with one of the products being made, requiring the sorting of all production of that part and the scrapping of quantities of defective parts.  At first we suspected a problem with the raw material, or a malfunction of the equipment.  When we found that none of the defective parts were produced on Law’s shift, using the same material and the same equipment, it was obvious we had a problem with careless operators.  Even then, it wasn’t all that easy to correct the problem as those workers had grown accustomed to not taking their foremen very seriously.  It took the suggestion that their jobs could be at stake to remedy the situation.  During all of this time, Law was a protection to his workers, their performance was not in question.

If the law is good, why do we resent it?  Is it a lack of understanding, a lack of experience, our emotions, wrong priorities, or some other flaw in our character?  Beneath all of these reasons, or excuses, is the fact of our self-willed heart.  With our minds we acknowledge that the law is good and right, but deep within us there is a hatred of the authority of the law.  There is in fact a war within our very being.

The prophet Ezekiel revealed 2500 years ago that God would provide a solution to this problem.  “ A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  It’s really very simple, the problem never was with the law, it has always been in the heart of man.

We can define liberty as being able to do as we please without suffering any undesirable consequences.  The natural man can never experience such liberty because his desires will always bring him into conflict with the natural laws which govern our existence.  “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25).  “ For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  When our heart is changed and God’s good pleasure becomes our good pleasure, we are completely liberated.  Whatever we do, we can do it with all our might “ heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23), with enthusiasm and without fear.

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