Hyperspirituality and the Use of Means

by Glenn Conjurske

One of the common manifestations of hyperspirituality is its slighting or condemning of means, as though they were an illegitimate substitute for the true work of God, or as though the use of means were indicative of a lack of trust in God. The unspiritual use whatever means come to hand, and trust in those means, as though there were no God. The hyperspiritual stand at the opposite extreme, trusting in God alone, looking to God alone, as though the means which he has created are some way derogatory to his own glory. The spiritual stand upon the middle ground of truth, using all the means which God has given, thanking God for them, trusting in their efficacy to accomplish those things for which God has designed them, and trusting God all the while, knowing full well that he may thwart the workings of the most efficacious of means, or accomplish his purposes without any means at all, should he see fit. “The race is not” always “to the swift, nor the battle” necessarily “to the strong, neither yet bread” inevitably “to the wise, nor yet riches” invariably “to men of understanding, nor yet favour” certainly “to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (Eccl. 9:11). And beside time and chance, there is a God in heaven, who may over-rule the most efficacious of means at his pleasure. Yet ordinarily the race is to the swift, the battle ordinarily to the strong, and so forth. Men may therefore use means with confidence, and usually find success in them.

“There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, …to deliver their soul from death.” (Ps. 33:16-19). Thus are men dissuaded from a vain confidence in means, without God, but surely this is no warrant to refuse the use of such means, nor to decline to trust them under God. The same Bible which warns us not to trust in the strength of the horse tells us in Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” That is, where the means are absent, the end is not gained. “The crib is clean”—-clean empty, that is. There is no grain in it. But where the means are used, there is much increase—-for the means which God has created are actually effectual for the purposes for which they are made. The strength of the ox actually produces much increase.

David would not trust Saul’s armor, for he had not tried it, yet that could make no manner of difference, if his trust was wholly in the Lord, irrespective of the means. He did trust his sling and stones, for he had tried them. He trusted in the means themselves, and therefore could brook no jagged stones, but went to the brook for smooth ones, such as would fly straight, and so were actually suited to the matter in hand. And he must have five of them, to be well furnished with means, in case several of his stones should fail of their mark—-yet his confidence all the while was in the Lord. He did not trust the means without the Lord, nor the Lord without the means.

The unspiritual and the ungodly use means, and trust in them, as though there were no Creator, and such a use of means is generally effective for the purposes for which they are employed, for God has created the powers and properties which lie in the means, and those means are therefore effectual for the ends which those powers will naturally secure. Fire is actually hot, and will actually burn, whether we believe in its Creator or not. Wind will blow away the chaff, whether we acknowledge God or not. Mint or chamomile tea will actually relieve a stomach ache, in the godly or the ungodly, and with or without prayer. “Iron” actually “sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 27:17), if properly applied, whether we trust its Creator or not. In the natural course of things, wood will always burn when subjected to heat enough, burning wood will surely heat an oven, and a heated oven will without fail bake a potato. Yea, some have learned that iron is a better conductor of heat than a potato is, and so have discovered that their potato will bake so much the faster with a spike poked through it. This is wisdom. It is wisdom to understand the various powers and properties which reside in those things which God has created, so as to know how to employ them to accomplish our ends. And of course it is wisdom to use those means, and the most consummate folly to think to accomplish our ends without them. It is to just such wisdom that Christ refers when he says, in Luke 16:8, that “the children of this world are wiser in their own kind than the children of light.” The children of this world know how to employ proper means to accomplish their ends—-in their own sphere.

But by this the Lord plainly implies that there is another sphere—-a higher sphere—-which belongs to the children of light, and he plainly implies that means are to be used there also, that means will be found to be effectual there also, and that there is a wisdom which finds out those means and uses them. Here lies spiritual wisdom. Some of that wisdom is spelled out for us explicitly in the Bible. As “Iron sharpeneth iron,” when properly applied—-for it will dull it in a hurry otherwise, as they all know who have ever cut a nail with a newly sharpened saw—-”so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.” All this is wisdom, explicitly spelled out to us in the Bible.

But there is much more which is not taught us so explicitly. It lies as gold, buried deep in the mountain. It must be dug out, by study, by experience, and by meditation—-dug out of the stores of both Scripture and nature. It consists of understanding what means to employ to gain our ends, in a higher sphere than baking potatoes. Solomon employed such wisdom when he proposed to divide the harlot’s infant. He understood the mother’s heart, which is the creation of God, and he knew that heart to be the same in all women, even in harlots. And the means which he employed proved quite effectual for the accomplishment of his end.

But here hyperspirituality steps in, possessed by the mistaken notion that in using the means which God has created, we somehow dishonor the God who created them. God must be all. We must trust wholly and solely to him. To use means is unbelief. “God is my physician.” To use medicine is to distrust and dishonor him. “The Lord is my shepherd.” To look to a man for counsel or instruction, to follow the leading of a man, is to dishonor the Lord.

And hyperspirituality can almost always quote Scripture for its wayward notions—-and quote it too in such a manner as to make true faith and spirituality appear to be the most carnal unbelief. According to its own nature, hyperspirituality presses its own favorite scriptures in an extreme or absolute sense, which sets aside means, and nature, and Scripture, and common sense, and in the most pious manner conceivable makes God to be all in all! This is telling. This is taking. This upsets the equilibrium of simple souls. The Bible says, “ye need not that any man teach you.” Fie then upon pastors, teachers, books, and sermons. “Ye need not” such fleshly means—-”need not that any man teach you,” at any time, for any reason, for “the same anointing teacheth you of all things.” Thus do the extreme notions of the hyperspiritual press certain scriptures to an unwarranted and unwholesome extreme—-and how pious! how full of faith does all this appear!—-but it is always as much at the expense of other scriptures, as it is at the expense of common sense.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” say these hyperspiritual souls, and what do I want with a man to lead me? But the plain fact remains that God has given men to be shepherds, and to refuse to follow the shepherds which the Lord has given is to dishonor the Lord who gave them.

And here it will be proper to point out that hyperspirituality is almost always riddled with pride. It is not faith which exalts one scripture at the expense of another. It is not faith which claims that it needs no shepherd to follow, but precisely pride. It is faith in self, not faith in God. Faith in God would gladly receive the gifts which he has given. If the Lord has given gifts to men, and if among those gifts are shepherds and teachers, then faith will receive those gifts with gratitude, and make the most of them. It is pride which thinks to do without them, and while it appears to honor the Lord, by making him all in all, it in fact dishonors the Giver by slighting his gifts. On this plan Abraham might have said, What need have I of the womb of Sarah, when I have the promise of God? And we might all say, What need to plow and plant, when God promises to feed us?

But hyperspirituality comes in varying degrees. In its more extreme forms it will dispense with spiritual means, and put the direct supernatural or miraculous working of God in the place of all the means which he has ordained. Such are they that will not preach the gospel, or invite men to come to Christ, lest they take the work out of the hands of God. Such are they who will make no endeavor to convict men of their sins, since that is the work of the Holy Spirit, or labor for revival, since that is the work of God, and must be sovereignly bestowed. Calvinism is often at fault here.

But surely not Calvinism alone. It is not Calvinists only who decline the use of human ministries—-as pastors and books and sermons—-in order that they make the Lord alone their pastor and teacher. Nor Calvinists alone who decline to hearken to human reason—-or carnal reason, as they are pleased to call it—-in order to maintain their own folly and superstition, under the pious names of faith or spiritual intuition. Some will think to preach without study—-and indeed, to teach without knowing anything—-expecting the Spirit of God to fill their mouths when they open them. Some will even reject prayer, or prayer for certain things. The Bible says (they will tell us), that “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things,” and what have we to do with the carnal reason which would have us inform the Almighty of what he knows better than we do? Thus do they press to the most unwarranted extremes every scripture which exalts the divine and the supernatural over the human and the natural.

Such is the way of the extreme form of hyperspirituality, which refuses the use of spiritual means, in order to pay an ill-advised honor to God himself. But there is a milder—-and more common—-form, which sets aside natural means, in order to replace them with spiritual. Some refuse to use physicians or medicines, but must treat all their diseases by prayer and faith. It is in the realm of faith that hyperspirituality goes most often astray, thinking to obtain all by faith which ought to be gained by labor and by the use of means. Various doctrines of faith, as well as “faith movements” and “faith missions,” have been much at fault here. A B. Simpson writes, “Faith by its very nature is always weakened by a mixture of man’s works. If it has a human twig to lean on it will lean harder on it than on God’s mightiest words. It must therefore have God only.

“To combine the omnipotence of Jesus with a dose of mercury, is like trying to go upstairs by the elevator and the stairs at the same moment or harnessing an ox with a locomotive.” He might have added, like combining “a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” with the power of Almighty God.

Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission—-a “faith mission,” so called—-had strong hyperspiritual tendencies, which manifested themselves in various ways. Such, for example, was his belief that it was somehow beneath proper spiritual experience to thirst for his wife after she had died, for the Lord had said, “he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” Thus does hyperspirituality strive—-and Hudson Taylor did not find this easy—-to quell and squelch the human and the natural. In so doing, however, it elevates itself to a plane of spirituality more spiritual than that of Christ, who wept at the tomb of Lazarus.

Thus did Hudson Taylor press his favorite text to an extreme which must impugn the spirituality of Christ himself. On this text he wrote, “’If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink.’ Who does not thirst? Who has not mind-thirsts or heart-thirsts, soul-thirsts or body-thirsts? Well, no matter which, or whether I have them all—-‘Come unto me and’ remain thirsty? Ah no! ‘Come unto me and drink.”’

This of course looks very pious, as hyperspiritual notions always do, but hyperspirituality is as actually shallow as it is apparently pious. It so far sets aside common sense as to be really foolish. Pious it may sound, but it is not true that drinking of Christ will satisfy any “body-thirst.” We must have physical water for that, and we must have the creatures and gifts of God to satisfy many other thirsts as well. It is not true that drinking of Christ will satisfy every “heart-thirst” or “soul-thirst.” If this were so, God would never have said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” nor would he ever have created Eve. It was perfectly legitimate, because perfectly natural, that Hudson Taylor should thirst for his wife. Yet we turn the page in this most hyperspiritual of books, and see him pressing again his favorite text to its absolute extremity, thus denying either the rightness or the reality of everything human and natural. “’To know that “shall” means shall, that “never” means never, and that “thirst” means any unsatisfied need,’ Mr. Taylor often said in later years, ‘may be one of the greatest revelations God ever made to our souls.”’

Thus does he bring Paradise down to earth, and make angels of men, but none of this will stand the test of either Scripture or experience. When Christ said “shall never thirst” to the woman at the well, he never meant she would never again desire a man. If he meant this, why does Paul say, “It is better to marry than to burn”? Burning is surely an extreme form of thirst. Why does not Paul say, “Only drink of Christ, and all your burnings will be quenched”? In a word, Paul says nothing of this because it is not true. But these doctrines browbeat the spiritual, teaching them that if they thirst for any mere creature—-as a woman naturally does for a man—-it is because they are unspiritual. The truth is, God created those desires, and created the means with which to satisfy them, and he has no intention to satisfy those desires except by those means. Hudson Taylor’s notion is really as shallow as that of the poor Samaritan woman. Her idea of “never thirst” was “neither come hither to draw,” but this was false. She needed physical water for physical thirst—-and a man for her feminine needs—-as much after drinking of Christ as before. And so of a thousand other physical and emotional needs. God has created those needs. He has implanted within us desires for things other than himself—-needs for things other than himself—-whether food, water, air, love, or friendship. A man desires a woman. A woman desires a baby. God created those desires, and he means to satisfy them. Not with himself, however, but with the myriad of other things which he has created. Faith looks indeed to the fountain of living waters, for the satisfaction of all its needs, but he does not satisfy them with himself, any more than he did Adam’s, but with his gifts and creatures. He implanted within Adam, when he created him, the need for a woman, and satisfied that need by giving him a woman. He implanted within him a need for food, and satisfied it with all the fruits of Paradise. He never had any intention of satisfying those needs with himself, in a purely spiritual fashion. Hudson Taylor’s doctrine of the satisfaction of physical and emotional needs by the spiritual drinking from Christ is the worst kind of hyperspirituality, and can only lead to unbelief and disillusionment in the end, unless people never think, or deny the plain facts in order to maintain the doctrine.

With regard to the use of other sorts of means, on his first voyage to China, in a severe storm, when all hope was lost, Taylor gave away his life-belt, supposing he could not trust to that and God also. He then had “perfect peace”—-and proceeded immediately to construct another life preserver! seeing no inconsistency in this. He afterwards saw his error.

But we do not despise Hudson Taylor’s difficulties on this point. We have wrestled with similar questions ourselves—-and taken the hyperspiritual side of them too. But we have learned some things by our failings, and we write to pass on some of our dear-bought wisdom to others. We ask, therefore, How is it any more contrary to faith to use a sound ship to keep us afloat, than to use a life belt, in the absence of a sound ship? But hyperspirituality is generally as inconsistent as it is unscriptural. It may be that faith would claim exemption from shipwreck, and so think a life belt derogatory to trust in God, but this is to set ourselves above the apostle Paul, who in spite of all his faith and devotedness must yet say, “thrice I suffered shipwreck.” And on one of those occasions, “some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, …they escaped all safe to land.” We think it no more unbelieving for a man to provide himself with a life belt than to avail himself of a board. We know the life belt will float. We know the ship may not. We know too that “Time and chance happeneth to them all” (Eccl. 9:11), including all the servants of God.

But the “faith missions” have in fact taken their very denomination from a hyperspiritual doctrine of faith. Faith, they affirm, must receive its supplies by prayer alone, using no other means, and asking no one but God for money. Yet the inconsistency of such a position ought to be apparent. What would they think of a child who refused to tell his mother if he was sick, or hurt, or hungry, but would only pray that God would lay it on her heart—-by some supernatural means—-to help him? The fact is, it is his mother’s responsibility to care for him, and certainly ought to be her desire also. What harm in his letting her know of his need? How can this be thought to contravene faith? Yet observe, it is certainly the responsibility of the saints to care for those who minister to them the word of God, and it certainly ought to be their desire also, as much as it is a mother’s to care for her child. How then is it wrong for a faithful pastor to tell the people of his need? We can see no wrong in this at all, though we see wrong enough on the other side. These hyperspiritual doctrines of faith lead men to expect God to make known their needs to men, by a continual series of miraculous or supernatural impressions, in lieu of the obvious and natural means which lie ready to hand. This is never the way of the Lord, and why should we expect it only where money is involved?

But we have often remarked before that pride is the usual spring of hyperspirituality, and in the present instance we see, if not pride, yet a good deal of self-importance. Those who thus “live by faith,” as it is called, must expect a continual round of supernatural impressions to be administered from heaven on their behalf to all their supporters. We think there is too much of self in this.

But more. The plain fact is, hyperspiritual methods do not work. The God who has designed and ordained means by which we may accomplish the works which he has given us to do has neither obligation nor intention to come to our aid with supernatural powers if we decline to use the natural means which he has given us. He may do so at times, for he is merciful, even when we are astray, but at other times he will stand aloof and allow stern necessity to teach us our error. Unyielding necessity has always been the great corrector of hyperspiritual notions. It forced A. B. Simpson, who could never go back “to the brackish springs of second causes and human means,” at last to wear glasses, directly against his hyperspiritual faith.

But some will contend most vehemently that these “faith methods” do work. Have we not had abundant demonstration of it, in the work of George Müller, and in the numerous “faith missions” which have been built upon his doctrines? I think not. What I do think is that most of those who hold these notions have been obliged to cheat a little in the use of them, and so shield themselves from the hand of hard necessity. They profess that they receive their supplies solely by faith, using no means but prayer, but meanwhile they are careful to let the people know that their work exists, and to tell the world that they are living by faith. They may not ask for money, but they ask for prayer, and by this means let the whole world know of their need. Why this, if their faith is in God alone? And if it is consistent with faith to ask for prayer, why not to ask for money? Their actual faith falls short of the faith which they profess, and we suppose that if they would consistently stand on the ground which they profess, telling none but God of their need for support, stern necessity would soon oblige them to abandon it. It is very pleasing to ascend these heights of spirituality, but we may find ourselves stranded there. Those who take this high ground remind us of the kitten which climbs to giddy heights, in the confident expectation that her little mistress will call the fire department to get her down again. But God may decline to play that part, for it is not good for us to depend upon an unceasing round of miracles, to compensate for our own neglect of the means which he has given us. He may allow our need to pinch us, to teach us our error. Yet when we are disappointed in these giddy heights of faith, hyperspirituality will suggest that the real difficulty is our lack of faith or holiness. “If you’re sick, you’re sinning,” as the faith-healing people say. Or the dictum of Hudson Taylor, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” Thus do these doctrines browbeat the spiritual, and condemn the poor, hungry, naked, suffering apostles of Christ.

George Müller never told any man of any specific need at the time of its existence, but he told the whole world of his general and continual need. He published his annual reports, and these were spread far and wide, letting the whole world know of his work, and of the fact that it was supported solely by the gifts of those who believed in it. It was naturally claimed, therefore, that his support was actually raised by the reports.

To this he responded, “My reply is: (a) I publish these Reports, to give an account of my stewardship. (b) All Societies, or public Institutions, publish Reports; but the complaint on their part is, that they are not read. (c) These Reports which I have written might be read, yet no donations be sent. Only yesterday I had passing through my hands a small donation, accompanied by a letter from the donor, in which he states that he has for many years read the Reports with great interest, as he is a Christian; but that only now he sends his first donation. God must influence the minds of the readers of the Reports, to send us help; and, if He does not do so, thousands of Reports, read even with interest, might not bring one donation. In every way I depend upon God, and so it comes to pass, and only thus, that we are helped; for were I to depend upon Reports, while stating that I trust in God He would soon confound me, and would make it manifest that my profession was not sincere.”

We have neither reason nor inclination to doubt George Müller’s sincerity, nor his faith either, but men may be sincere and yet mistaken. Our concern is with the doctrine which is based upon Müller’s experience. Whatever his sincerity and faith may have been, there can be little doubt that the reports were the primary means of raising the money. This is acknowledged by Müller himself, and indeed, to suppose thousands of reports being read, with interest, and not one donation sent except by a special divine influence, must argue as great a miracle as the raising of the money without the reports. This makes all human nature a cipher, that it may put the direct working of God in its place. This is hyperspiritual.

Not that we would generally advocate a servant of the Lord asking the people for support. This may be entirely right, so far as faith is concerned, yet prudence and discretion have their claims as well as faith. Though it be right in the eyes of God to ask for money, it is generally ill taken by the people. It is usually wise, therefore, rather to suffer need than to ask for money, though it may be entirely consistent with faith to do so.

But to proceed, we think there is really a strong element of unbelief in the hyperspiritual faith which slights the use of means. Real faith believes in the wisdom of God. It supposes that the means which he has created, and the gifts which he has given, are actually effectual for the purposes for which he has given them. It does not despise human reason, but uses it as a most marvelous gift of God, verily suited to the operations for which God gave it. It does not slight or set aside the “pastors and teachers” which God has given, but expects the blessing of God to come by means of his own gifts. It is unbelief—-coupled with pride, as usual—-which sets these things aside.

And real faith looks deeper still. It reckons that the gifts of God are as needful as they are effectual. It not only supposes that his gifts are actually efficacious to secure their several ends, but reckons likewise that the fact that he has given them presupposes a need for them. The fact that God created Eve argues the previous fact that Adam needed her. If Adam had contended that he had no need of Eve, since God himself was his all in all, this would have been no faith at all, but only self-sufficiency and pride, and as much unbelief in God as faith in himself. The fact that God has given pastors and teachers to his church argues the previous fact that his church needs them—-and establishes also that he has no intention of leading his saints without them. Those who neglect or despise them will do so to the poverty of their own souls. Their spiritual corn-crib will be as “clean” as that of the man who refuses the physical strength of the ox.

But we believe that there are times when it is perfectly proper to look to God in faith, and use no means whatsoever, aside from faith and prayer. Though it may be generally improper to take such a course, it is undoubtedly right whenever necessity compels us to it—-that is, when there are no means available to us. There will be times when there are no means available but such as we cannot afford, or for some reason cannot obtain, perhaps none which we can use without doubts, or without giving offense. At other times, there will be no means available which we can use without compromise. Such was Abraham’s use of Hagar to secure the promised seed, and God would not own it. Yet this was no sign he should not use Sarah for the same end. In yet other instances there will be no means available at all, as, for example, in the case of incurable diseases. God would sustain his people in the desert by a daily supply of manna from heaven—-and keep their shoes from wearing out for forty years also—-for there were no other means of sustenance available, but as soon as they entered the land of Canaan, “the manna ceased, on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land.” (Joshua 5:12).

In all such cases, where no legitimate or effectual means lie within our reach, it is certainly most proper to employ faith and prayer alone, without the use of any other means, for we really have no choice. But no man of sense would dream of making a rule of such cases. Because a man cannot use means when he has none, should another man refuse to use the means which he has? If he does, it will be to his own poverty.

To conclude, we believe the means which God has created to be as right and proper as they are efficacious. We believe that the powers and properties which make them efficacious are real and substantial, and actually resident in them, and this by the design and creation of God. Water actually quenches thirst, by the intrinsic properties which belong to it by creation. Certain medicinal substances actually heal us of certain maladies. A certain plant will actually heal us from the bite of a certain venomous serpent. Vaccination will actually prevent certain diseases. Wholesome food actually sustains our health, by virtue of those vitamins, minerals, and other substances which belong to it by creation. The fruit of the tree of life would actually sustain human life for ever, if we had access to it, and therefore that access is denied us, as the judgement upon our sin, for the use of that means would actually produce that effect. And all such facts are “the warrant of faith,” as theologians speak, for the use of those means. The efficacious properties which actually reside in the gifts of God are “the warrant of faith” for the use of them. This does not dishonor God, but quite the reverse. To put those means in the place of God dishonors him, to be sure. This is the way of carnality. But then to put God in the place of the means dishonors him also, though more pious in its intentions. This is the way of hyperspirituality. We want neither the one nor the other. True faith and true spirituality stand between these false extremes, receiving the gifts of God with thanksgiving, enjoying them, using them for their proper ends, and believing that they are, by the wisdom of God, actually suited to accomplish those ends.

Glenn Conjurske

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