by Glenn Conjurske
Next to carnality, I suppose the greatest enemy of true spirituality is hyperspirituality. In one sense I suppose it is a greater enemy, for it is certainly more subtle. I have observed for years what seems to be a general pattern, that wherever a man rises out of the bogs and swamps of lukewarmness and carnal principles, instead of planting his feet upon solid earth, he seems to soar off into the fogs and mists of hyperspirituality. It is not that men become too spiritual
—-as if that were possible —-but rather that they proceed beyond the realm of true spirituality into that which is false. Hyperspirituality may appear to be too much of a good thing, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing. As a number of old proverbs speak, Every extremity is a fault, Extremity of right is wrong, Right overstrained turns to wrong, and Too far east is west. Too far east is west indeed, and too far right is wrong indeed —-and it often so happens that hyperspiritual principles lead people directly into carnal practices.
But before proceeding any further, I must define what I mean by hyperspirituality. Hyperspirituality is being more spiritual than God is. It is adopting principles that are more spiritual than those laid down in the Scriptures. This generally consists of displacing the natural with the spiritual, as though God were not the author of both. It consists of equating the natural with the carnal and the evil. It often consists of ascribing to God a larger place than he ascribes to himself, and so of course a smaller place to the gifts of God, the creatures of God, and the means which God has ordained. It generally, in principle, replaces the gifts, creations, and ordinances of God with God himself
—-thus supposing to give the greater glory to God, and never perceiving that to slight the gifts and ordinances of God is in reality to slight the Creator and Giver of them.
This is pride and will-worship, which under color of glorifying God actually impugns his wisdom and his ways. It slights everything natural, as well as everything human, including human responsibility, human exertion, human emotion, and human need. “Natural” and “carnal” become virtual synonyms, and to refuse that which is merely natural, or merely human, becomes the badge of spirituality. The God-implanted emotions and needs of mankind are equated with “sin that dwells in me,” and all are denied together. “Touch not, taste not, handle not”
—-injunctions entirely legitimate and necessary where sin is concerned —-are applied to the very gifts of God. This is will worship and voluntary humility, which under color of giving a larger place to God, actually gives him a smaller place, for it despises the gifts and ordinances of God, exalts itself above the wisdom which ordained and gave them, and calls that evil which God calls good —-or, in a milder form, calls that needless which God has created for our good. Under color of affirming the all-sufficiency of God, it in reality proclaims the all-sufficiency of self, for, all oblivious to its own weakness and need, it thinks to do without the very things which God has made profitable or necessary to its own well-being.
It seems that hyperspirituality has plagued the church from its very inception. Paul wrote against hyperspiritual notions in several of his epistles. During the days of the church fathers, as they are called, hyperspirituality gained the ascendency, and laid the foundation for a millennium of asceticism and monasticism. It was primarily the hyperspirituality of the church fathers which led them eventually to reject the Bible doctrine of premillennialism. Though it had been firmly held by the early church, there was really no way that premillennialism could survive in such an atmosphere. Everything earthly was supposed to be unspiritual. All that belonged to human life on the earth was despised, so that many of the early Christians thirsted for martyrdom. Ignatius, martyred in A.D. 110, while enroute to Rome to die, repeatedly admonished the Christians not to intercede for him to save his life. But all of this was as unspiritual as it was unnatural. We see no such wanton throwing away of life in the Scriptures, but just the reverse. Paul may have been in a strait betwixt the two, desiring to depart and to be with Christ, as well as to remain upon the earth to serve him, but he did nothing to throw away his life. When they watched the city in order to take him, he escaped in a basket over the wall. When the Jews swore to kill him, he sent a messenger to the governor to secure his protection.
Neither did Paul despise the things of this life, while this life lasted. To forbid their use he calls “doctrines of devils,” specifically, “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which GOD HATH CREATED TO BE RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING of them which believe and know the truth. For EVERY CREATURE OF GOD IS GOOD, and NOTHING TO BE REFUSED if it be received with thanksgiving.” (I Tim. 4:3-4). Meats and marriage are natural things, and therefore regarded as carnal, unspiritual, or at best unnecessary, by the hyperspiritual. But in so regarding them, they set themselves against the wisdom of him who created them. They must, if they would but think so far as to be consistent with themselves, suppose that God was unspiritual when he created a natural, earthly paradise. They must suppose that Adam’s condition was unspiritual, when he freely ate of every tree in the garden, lived in the delights of the charms of Eve, and walked with God in the cool of the day.
The hyperspiritual, of course, cannot abstain altogether from meats, but what tightropes they have walked in the use of them! Augustine (church father of the fourth and fifth centuries) writes thus of his struggles: “But now the necessity [of eating] is sweet unto me, against which sweetness I fight, that I be not taken captive; and carry on a daily war by fastings….
“This hast Thou taught me, that I should set myself to take food as medicine. But while I am passing from the discomfort of emptiness to the content of replenishing, in the very passage the snare of concupiscence besets me. For this very passage is pleasure, nor is there any other way to pass thither, to which necessity obliges us. And health being the cause of eating and drinking, there joineth itself as an attendant a dangerous pleasure.”1
All of this struggle, of course, assumes that physical pleasure is sinful
—-calls the enjoyment of food “concupiscence” —-assumes that those natural appetites, and the means of satisfying them, which God created and pronounced “very good,” are in fact evil. Augustine imputes that evil to God, for according to his notions, what God has made necessary to our being is in fact a snare to our well-being. But one word of Paul scatters all of this chaff to the winds, for Paul says that God “giveth us richly all things TO ENJOY.” Richly. Not stintingly, or as a medicine. All things. All things which he has created, that is. “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” And all of this TO ENJOY. The appetites with which we are created, the capacities for enjoyment, and the means by which those capacities are to be satisfied, are all “very good.” (Gen. 1:31). To think anything otherwise of them is the quintessence of hyperspirituality. All of God’s creatures may be abused, but use and abuse are two things, and the evil uses to which men put the gifts of God do not make those gifts evil.
And as hyperspiritual notions have done with meats, so they have done with marriage also, only to a far greater extent. Meats are necessary to our being, marriage only to our well-being. Marriage, therefore, may be dispensed with altogether, where meats are only slighted. It was very early in the history of the church that virginity
—-or abstinence at any rate —-began to be equated with spirituality. Tertullian (who lived about the years 150-230) has a great deal to say on the subject, and all of it hyperspiritual. He says, “The will of God is our sanctification, for He wishes His `image’ —-us —-to become likewise His `likeness;’ that we may be `holy’ just as Himself is `holy.’ That good —-sanctification, I mean —-I distribute into several species….The first species is, virginity from one’s birth: the second, virginity from one’s second birth, that is, from the [baptismal] font; which [second virginity] either in the marriage state keeps [its subject] pure by mutual compact, or else perseveres in widowhood from choice: a third grade remains, monogamy, when, after the interception of a marriage once contracted, there is thereafter a renunciation of” physical connection.2 Sanctification, then, in Tertullian’s view, is abstinence. Of the “mutual compact,” by which couples are kept “pure” in the bonds of marriage, Tertullian says elsewhere, “Accordingly, the apostle added [the recommendation of] a temporary abstinence for the sake of adding an efficacy to prayers, that we might know that what is profitable `for a time’ should be always practised by us, that it may be always profitable. Daily, every moment, prayer is necessary to men; of course, continence [is so] too, since prayer is necessary. Prayer proceeds from conscience. If the conscience blush, prayer blushes.”3
Paul says we might separate “for a time,” and “come together again.” (I Cor. 7:5). Tertullian says, what is good for a time must be good always. We must abstain, or blush! This, and all he says on the subject, is born of his own false notion that the physical contact of man and wife is defiling. Yet God says, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.”
Those who quote Tertullian to establish the position of the early church against remarriage after divorce will understand how worthless his testimony is in such a matter, when they understand that he called a second marriage after the death of a spouse “fornication,” and advocated celibacy in marriage. He held all physical contact to be evil. In writing against a second marriage, and putting it on the same footing with fornication, he continues, “`Then,’ says [some one], `are you by this time destroying first
—-that is, single —-marriage too?’ And not without reason [if I am]; inasmuch as it, too, consists of that which is the essence of fornication.”4 And once more, “`Good,’ he says, `[it is] for a man not to have contact with a woman.’ It follows that it is evil to have contact with her; for nothing is contrary to good except evil.”5
But I trust the reader has had quite enough of this, especially since we live in a day when there is not very much danger of this kind of hyperspirituality. Yet marriage suffers still from the ravages of hyperspirituality, for while almost all Evangelicals accept the physical part of marriage as “honorable” and “undefiled”
—-and will even grant that it is necessary “to avoid fornication” —-there are yet many of them who despise and contemn the emotional part of marriage, and regard that as frivolous and unnecessary. Love they will of course allow, but not romantic love. That they regard as something carnal, foolish, frivolous, or at best, unnecessary.
Such hyperspirituality is of long standing in the church. George Whitefield, in 1740, wrote a marriage proposal to a young lady, in which he said, “I think I can call the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to witness that I desire to take you, my sister, to wife, not for lust, but uprightly; . . . The passionate expressions which carnal courtiers use, I think, ought to be avoided by those that would marry in the Lord.”6 Whoever wrote the Song of Songs evidently did not know this
—-but then that book has been so often spiritualized that perhaps Whitefield would not have acknowledged that it pertained to marriage at all. On the same day that he thus addressed the young lady, he wrote to her parents also, saying, “You need not be afraid of sending me a refusal; for, I bless God, if I know anything of my own heart, I am free from that foolish passion which the world calls love.”7 But what is this, but to trample upon the deepest need of a woman’s nature? —-to tell her that it matters not to him whether she accepts or rejects his proposals, for he has no love for her? What a vast difference between this cold letter, and that which Adoniram Judson handed to Emily (his third wife):
“I hand you, dearest one, a charmed watch. It always comes back to me, and brings its wearer with it. I gave it to Ann when a hemisphere divided us, and it brought her safely and surely to my arms. I gave it to Sarah during her husband’s life-time (not then aware of the secret), and the charm, though slow in its operation, was true at last.
“Were it not for the sweet sympathies you have kindly extended to me, and the blessed understanding that `love has taught us to guess at,’ I should not venture to pray you to accept my present with such a note. Should you cease to `guess’ and toss back the article, saying, `Your watch has lost its charm; it comes back to you, but brings not its wearer with it’
—-O first dash it to pieces, that it may be an emblem of what will remain of the heart of
“Your devoted, A. JUDSON.”8
Ah, but Judson wrote so at the age of 57, when he possessed both wisdom and spirituality. Whitefield wrote his cold missive at the age of 25. We are not to suppose, however, that Whitefield had no love at all for the girl, but that he had none of the romantic kind. But “that foolish passion which the world calls love” is love. The Bible calls it love, and to call it “lust,” as Whitefield does, is to cast a slur upon its Creator. Romantic love is as pure as Paradise, which was its first abode. It did not originate with the fall of man, but is, as Emily Judson most beautifully calls it, “the one flower, which seems to have been spared us from the wreck of Eden.”9 This love is an absolute necessity to make a marriage what God created it to be
—-and which every normal human being needs it to be. Those who treat “falling in love” with contempt —-or who marry without it —-have reduced marriage to the level of the animals. Love is not a union of bodies —-nor of spirits either —-but a bond of souls. It is neither physical nor spiritual —-though it may include both —-but emotional. That love may be —-and ought to be —-intense and powerful ere ever there is any physical contact, or any choice or commitment to marry. Such was Jacob’s love for Rachel, before he contracted to marry her. “Jacob loved Rachel, and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.” (Gen. 29:18). For seven years his soul was ravished with that love, before he was united to her. That love is the indispensable foundation of a good marriage. The capacity for that love —-and the need for it —-belongs to man’s nature.
But there are Christians enough who seem determined to rid marriage of marital love. They will not allow it to be an emotion, but reduce it (elevate it, as they think) to the level of commitment. They suppose true love to be nothing other than the kind which any man may feel for his brother or his mother. That peculiar love which exists only between lovers, which is founded upon the mutual attractions which belong by creation to masculine and feminine natures, they treat with contempt, and call it by the debased name of “lust.” I have read tracts and articles on “how to know if you are in love,” only to find that there was not a single word in the entire paper about romantic love. The whole was about spiritual love
—-about choice, and character, and commitment —-so that the poor soul who takes such stuff seriously must conclude that he is in love with his father and mother, brothers and sisters, and all his friends! The obvious intent of such articles is to cast a slur upon romantic love —-to set it aside —-to relegate it to the realm of the carnal, the frivolous, or the unnecessary —-to persuade us that it is not true love. These hyperspiritual teachers are willing enough that we should eat cake, so long as there is no sugar in it, and no frosting on it. But common sense tells us, if it has no sugar, it is NOT CAKE.
It is often among false religions that we find the greatest extremes of hyperspirituality. Hinduism is rife with it, and insensitive to every human need. Of marriage among the Hindus we are told, “Marriage is more generally contracted by the parents of the parties, ere they come to maturity. … Very little opportunity is given the parties to become acquainted with each other previous to marriage; nor is this considered necessary.”10 Surely this is debasing marriage to the level of the beasts. Of these Hindu marriages another says, “Marriage is an important affair, and great care is taken to select a proper match as to family, rank, &c. Comfort and happiness are generally sacrificed for these, and the boy and girl are often married without having seen each other till the day when they are linked together. I need not say that the system is productive of incalculable wretchedness.”11 “Incalculable wretchedness” of course, for what else can be expected when a marriage is made without any reference to the one thing which is essential to make a satisfying marriage? What are all their pains to secure a “proper match,” when falling in love is no part of the process?
The Hindu marriages are an extreme case, but I know Evangelicals who are every bit as hyperspiritual in principle. Emotional attachment
—-love, that is —-is allowed no place in the choice of a marriage partner. The young people are scarcely allowed to know each other until after they have made a virtual commitment to marry. They are taught that it is sinful to establish an emotional relationship —-to fall in love, that is —-until after they are committed to marry. Thus they are forced to try —-and likely enough to try in vain —-to lay the foundation on the roof, for make no doubt about it, there can be no other foundation for a good marriage than romantic love. Character may keep a good marriage, but cannot make one.
Such proceedings must assume that any two persons may fall in love (which all the world knows to be false), or else they must assume that such love is unnecessary. While true marital love is a romantic bond of souls, young people are forced to choose a mate in the dark, with very little knowledge of their partner’s soul. They must choose on the basis of good looks, or of character (the body, or the spirit, that is), but the one grand essential, a knowledge of the soul
—-the heart and personality —-is denied them. Emotional attachment is rigidly excluded in the choice of a mate. Those romantic charms and desires which belong to our natures, and which by God’s design naturally incite us to marriage, are totally set aside, and replaced with some supposed spiritual sense —-with some imagined awakenings, nudgings, or witnessing of the Holy Spirit to our spirits that we ought to marry, or that we ought to marry some particular person. This is one of the most extreme, and most detrimental, forms of hyperspirituality which I have seen, and though it is touted as the means of preventing bad marriages, it is precisely calculated to produce them. Alas, in the midst of such unhappy marriages, folks reproach themselves with carnality, because they can do no better job of loving each other. Such should rather consider that the fact that they love each other at all in such trying circumstances bespeaks a high degree of character.
I recently read the testimonies of a young couple who were married on that plan. The poor girl was obliged to say that though God had given them a deep love for each other, there were no fireworks. That is, in plain English, though they had a deep love of the kind which friends may have, or brothers and sisters, it was not romantic love. It was not the kind of love which marriage is made of. Thus the God-given emotions of this pleasant young couple are sacrificed upon the altar of hyperspirituality. We do not speak to reproach them. They have, indeed, our most profound sympathy, but we deplore the doctrine which places them in such a plight. They are told to keep their emotions on the shelf until marriage, or until engagement. But such notions must assume that we are capable of putting those emotions on the shelf
—-or taking them down —-at will. But this is certainly not the case, and those who teach such things must know very little of the workings of the human soul. I am well aware that we have ten thousand Evangelicals today preaching the hyperspiritual doctrine that “Love is a choice,” or “Love is a decision,” but this is certainly false. It makes out love to be nothing other than commitment, yet every man with common sense knows very well that he may have commitment where he has no love, and he may likewise have strong love where there is no commitment —-where it would even be wrong to enter into any commitment, as when Samson loved Delilah. The hyperspiritual will deny that this is love, but the Bible calls it love. It is romantic love —-the subject of the Song of Solomon, and the type of the love of Christ and the church.
But these hyperspiritual notions slight and despise those things which belong to the soul of man, and seek to replace them with those things which belong to the spirit. But the attempt is as vain as it is detrimental. Love is an emotion, which belongs to the soul. Choice and decision belong to the spirit. It is not possible to replace emotion with decision. We cannot turn our hearts into heads, nor our souls into spirits. As we cannot “live on love”
—-cannot feed our bodies with the emotions of our souls —-no more can we satisfy our souls with the operations of our spirits. It is not possible to replace romance with character. We all know that there are persons in whose character and godliness we delight, yet towards whom we never could feel any romantic attraction. The one belongs to the soul, the other to the spirit. We cannot make romantic charm the basis of character, and no more can we make character the basis of romantic attraction. God has never designed that we should. Those who have tried it have failed, and yet they will blame themselves for the failure, and impose the same impossible task upon others. We have no business to require such impossibilities of ourselves. It is will-worship, and it can no more please God than it can satisfy man. He created our bodies and souls as well as our spirits, and he created the means with which to satisfy our bodies and our souls, and created those means “to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” It is ignorance and unbelief —-usually coupled with pride —-which refuses them. This is hyperspirituality. Faith, and true spirituality, give God his place as God, by receiving his gifts with thanksgiving, and enjoying them.
Hyperspirituality, then, has only shifted its ground. The early church equated the physical part of marriage with carnality, and while there are few who would endorse such views today, it is now the way of many to treat the emotional part of marriage with distrust, or contempt. Both views are hyperspiritual. Both attempt to raise us to a level of spirituality never designed by our Creator, for they endeavor to raise us above the nature with which we are created. “Nature is the true law,” as a true proverb truly says. Nature is the true law because it is what it is by God’s creation, and those who have a more spiritual plan than God’s are deep in error.
As observed at the beginning of this article, it is often the way of the hyperspiritual to despise the gifts and the creatures of God, and think to rise above any need for them, and find their all in God himself. Just here is the subtlety of hyperspirituality, and herein lies its great attraction for spiritual minds. It would seem a very spiritual thing to rise above all earthly delights, and find my all in all in God himself, but God never designed this, and he who takes such a course impugns both the wisdom and the goodness of God at almost every turn. God has created men with natural (physical and emotional) needs, and he has created the natural means with which to satisfy those needs. The man who despises or declines the gifts of God in reality impugns the wisdom of God. The spurning of romantic love for the love of God is, as the editor of Richard Rolle well says, “as much above the truth as mere sensuality is beneath it.”12 It is not spiritual, but hyperspiritual. God certainly did not go astray in creating Eve, nor did he thereby tempt Adam to go astray. It would have been no mark of spirituality for Adam to decline to take Eve to wife. Adam might have said, with a host of hyperspiritual souls, “What need have I of a woman? I walk with God. I drink at the fountain of living waters
—-the Great Creator —-eternal Love itself —-and what need have I of a mere creature for my happiness?” So speak the hyperspiritual, and God responds, “It is not good that man should be alone,” for God created man to need a creature for his happiness. Though Adam was alone with God, yet God said, “It is not good that he should be alone.” God is indeed the fountain of living waters —-but he has created us to need the waters as well as the fountain. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and he has created us with a nature which needs the gifts as well as the Giver. We cannot eat God, nor breathe God, but must have food and air. No more can our romantic needs be satisfied by God. Adam did not acquire that need for a creature when he sinned. He was created with that need.
And by the way (pardon me: I cannot help it
—-nor help the flow of my tears while I contemplate it), here once again it is the beloved book of Genesis which scatters the dark and chilling shades of error, with the pure light of heaven. If the saints of God but knew Genesis, how would a host of errors take their flight from the church of God. The great John Fletcher, a spiritual man, with a few grains of hyperspirituality besides, for the most of his life regarded marriage as inconsistent with spirituality. He no doubt knew that “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled,” yet still supposed that there was some higher level of spirituality, where marriage could not come. Well, if there is, it lies beyond the grave, and ere he died the good man was so fortunate as to discover, in the fifth chapter of the dear and precious book of Genesis, that “Enoch walked with God, . . . and begat sons and daughters.” His hyperspiritual notions took their flight, and he saw the gift of God to be worthy of the Giver. He took a wife, and walked with God, no doubt as well as ever he had done before.
But while some refuse the natural gifts of God, as though they were carnal, they often descend to that which is carnal indeed. What a dark catalog of sin has followed in the train of hyperspiritual doctrines concerning marriage. The English Reformer George Joye well says, “Oh good God, how many souls have they drawn with their selves to hell by this one law with forbidding man and woman to marry. What burnings, what concupiscenses and unlawful lusts have this Synagogue of Satan caused and compelled to reign and to be carried about in these persons’ hearts day and night, that would marry, and may, and dare not? Yea, what adultery, fornication, with other uncleannesses, followeth upon this devilish doctrine and law of forbidding matrimony? And yet they thought (if covetousness and ambitious dominion were not the cause) to have instituted and set up a more pure spiritual state and order than ever God made.”13
And all of these hyperspiritual notions which seek to replace the gifts with the Giver are only evil in their tendency. Those who refuse the gifts of God can hardly maintain a pure walk with him. Some, unable to divert the streams of nature from their natural course, live on and love on according to the nature which God has given them, but do so with a defiled conscience, supposing such a course to be evil or unspiritual. They fear that they love where they ought not, or love too much, and are sometimes taught that if they love wife, or friend, or child too much, God will justly take away the object of their love. Thus the God who “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not,” who “giveth us richly all things to enjoy,” is turned into a cold-hearted, stingy master. His natural gifts, “created to be received with thanksgiving,” by those who in fact need them, are regarded as something debasing or polluting.
But hyperspirituality does not stop there. Many there are who regard the Lord’s spiritual gifts in the same light. “The Lord is my shepherd,” they say, and therefore “I shall not want,” but whoever looks to a man as shepherd shall have spiritual poverty for it. Oh? and why then did God give “shepherds and teachers” (so the Greek, Eph. 4) as gifts to his church? Are the gifts of God harmful? The plain fact is, we may look to both the Lord and a man (or several men) as our shepherds, and the Giver of those shepherds has certainly designed that we should. The gifts of God are profitable, and in most cases necessary for our good, and it is pride and self-sufficiency, not faith or spirituality, which refuses them. It is the quintessence of hyperspirituality to think to replace the gifts of God with God himself, and such a course is always harmful. Shepherds aside, “the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” (I Cor. 12:21). The feet are no shepherds, but the least and lowest of God’s gifts, yet Paul says, “those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary.” (Verse 22).
One of the most mischievous manifestations of hyperspiritual notions relates to the use of means. Some seek to replace natural means with spiritual. Instead of working for their bread, they will pray for it. Others seek to replace spiritual means with the direct working of God. They will not seek the Lord, but wait for the Lord to convert them. Others will not endeavor to convict men of their sins, but leave that to the Spirit of God. They will not labor for revival, but wait for God to bestow it of his sovereign pleasure. Much of the American church was bound hand and foot with such notions two centuries ago.
It is in the realm of faith that hyperspirituality often goes to seed. Men trust God, as they suppose, to do what God has given them the means to do themselves. They expect God to do without means what they themselves might do with the means which he has placed in their hands. But this is no faith, but presumption. It is tempting God. When the devil tempted Christ to abandon the natural means of support upon which he stood, and cast himself upon the direct intervention and power of God, the Lord responded with, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Though the disciples lacked nothing when they were sent forth without purse or scrip, yet the Lord deliberately sets aside any notion that it might always be so, saying, “But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36). Though we may be unable to explain the change involved, yet it is plain enough that here we are cast upon our own resources, and it shall be at our cost if we fail to use them. Noah was not taught to trust God to save him without the use of means, but to prepare an ark to the saving of himself and his house. When we are destitute of any means of support, when we have no means of accomplishment, we may then legitimately cast ourselves upon the immediate working of God, but to refuse or abandon those means which he has put into our hands is only to tempt him, and this is the essence of hyperspirituality.
Such was the Moravian doctrine of “stillness,” which was so strongly opposed by the Wesleys. All of the means which God has ordained were set aside, in favor of the direct working of God himself. Men would not read the Bible, nor pray
—-were taught that it was wrong to do so, as though this would be robbing God of his glory. They must leave the whole work of their conversion and sanctification to the direct working of God himself. And these hyperspiritual notions in the realm of the spirit are both more plausible and more detrimental than those which relate to the body or the soul. A man who thinks to stop eating, and allow God to have all the glory of sustaining his natural life, will very soon be driven by hard necessity to abandon his folly, whereas those who think to give all the glory to God by refusing to use spiritual means may well go down to perdition still holding their lie in their right hand.
But it is seldom that men hold any false doctrine consistently, and those who reject the use of means generally do so very partially and selectively. They reject spiritual means, yet continue to use natural means. They think it wrong to go to a pastor to obtain food for their souls, yet they will go to the market for food for their bodies. They will labor for a harvest of grain, but not for a harvest of souls. Others reject the use of only certain specific means. A. B. Simpson and the Christian and Missionary Alliance rejected the use of medicine, thinking to replace it with faith, and expecting God to sustain their health supernaturally. Their missionaries would not use quinine to fight malaria, but would trust God. They might just as well have rejected food, and replaced it with faith. When enough of them had died, their ingenuity found a means by which to sustain their lives and their hyperspiritual doctrines both. They put the quinine on the table with the salt shaker, and used it as a seasoning! The seasoning evidently greatly increased their faith, for they ceased to die of malaria.
Again, it is while dwelling in the supposed realms of faith that many slight and condemn all of those emotions which belong to our present state of weakness, suffering, and disappointment. They expect men to feel as angels do, though men have neither the strength nor the portion of angels. By faith we ought to be always rejoicing, always singing, apparently never feeling those sorrows and disappointments which belong to the life of our vanity. Job and Elijah come in always for a large measure of the castigations of these hyperspiritual tongues. Job and Elijah were sinners, no doubt, yet it was the Lord who said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 26:38). Why was he not singing in Gethsemane?
But to proceed, another of the most mischievous forms of hyperspirituality is that which makes all self-interest to be sinful. As true marital love is called by the debased name of “lust,” so the one motive which God himself holds out to man everywhere in the Bible is called by the debased name of “selfishness.” If I pray for something because I need it, this is held to be sinful praying
—-much more if I pray for it because I want it. If I repent to save my soul, such repentance is held to be sinful and unavailing. I must do all that I do purely for the glory of God, or it is all sin. Such views paralized American theology from Jonathan Edwards to Charles G. Finney and beyond. But all of this is directly against the Bible. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible holds out to us our own good as the proper motive for our repentance, holiness, and service to God. From “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” to “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life,” our own good is the motive for action which God himself holds out to us. “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee.” (Deut. 12:28). “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 6:20). “So run, that ye may obtain.” (I Cor. 9:24). “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” (II Jn. 8). “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 2:7). Those who attempt to rise above this must of necessity fail, for they are endeavoring to rise clean out of the nature with which God created them. Adam was no sinner when God held out to him his own good as the motive for not eating of the forbidden tree, and there is nothing sinful in acting for our own good.
But does not the Lord command us to do all that we do for the glory of God? Indeed he does
—-and he expects us to so do in order that we may secure our own good thereby. It is either that, or we must set this one text against a thousand others, and against the whole tenor of Scripture besides.
I am very well aware that we are called to a life of self-denial, not self-indulgence
—-but to deny ourselves that which is good, for Christ’s sake, is a different thing than to regard that good as evil. Paul says, “He that marries does well: he that marries not does better,” yet to say therefore that “He that marries does ill” is certainly false. We do well to deny ourselves for Christ’s sake, but we do ill to deny ourselves beyond our strength, to the damage of our own souls. This is not spiritual, but hyperspiritual.