All Head, No Hands

Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892) was archdeacon of Chichester in the Church of England.

James 1:22 tells us, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." James is here warning us against a very common and subtle temptation: the substituting of Christian knowledge for Christian obedience and the danger of hearing without doing the Word of God. Let's consider this more fully.

The Man in the Mirror.
First, we must remember that this knowledge without obedience ends in nothing. James says it is like a man who looks at his own face in a glass (vv. 23-24). For the time he has the clearest perception of countenance. But when he has gone his way, the whole image fades, and the vividness of other objects overpowers it.
Nothing can better express the shallowness and fleetingness of knowledge without obedience. For the time it is vivid and exact, but it fades off into nothing - no resolution recorded in the conscience or, if recorded, none maintained. No change of life, nothing done or left undone for the sake of the truth.

All Too Familiar
In fact, knowing without obeying is worse than in vain. It inflicts a deep and lasting injury upon the powers of our spiritual nature. Even in the hardest of men, a knowledge of Christianity produces an effect upon the conscience and the heart. It excites certain convictions and emotions, and these are mysterious gifts of God. They are the first movements of the moral powers within us, the first impulses to set us in motion toward God.
Now here is the peril of habitually listening to truths that we habitually disobey. Every time we hear them, the goad the conscience and stir the heart. But each succeeding time, they do so with a lessened force and a blunter edge. The spiritual senses often acted on are deadened, just as the ear seems to lose all hearing of familiar sounds.
So is it with men who have long been familiar with the mysteries of Christ. In childhood, boyhood, manhood, the same sounds of warning and promise and persuasion, the same hopes and fears, have fallen on a heedless ear and a still more heedless heart. They have lost their power over him; he has acquired a settled habit of hearing without doing. in this way the whole force of habit has reinforced his original reluctance to obey.

There's Always Tomorrow.
But there is a further danger still, for knowledge without obedience is an arch-deceiver of mankind. "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves" - deceive into thinking, that is, that we are any nearer heaven just because we have a cold, barren awareness that the gospel is the word of God or a clear intellectual perception of it's doctrines.
One would think that the clearer a man's knowledge of what he ought to do and be, the clearer would be his perception of the vast moral distance between that high standard and his actual state. But we see men who know everything a Christian has need to know for his soul's health and yet are as little like Christians in their daily habit of life as if they had never gotten beyond the moral standards of unbelievers. But nothing would make them believe that was their condition; they have deceived their own selves.
There are men who can never speak of religious truth without emotion, and sometimes not without tears - yet though their knowledge has so much fervor as to make them weep, it doesn't have enough power to make them deny a lust. Yes, it will be found with most of us that we truly believe ourselves to be better than we are. We overrate what we do well; we wink at what we do amiss. We comfort ourselves that we know better and shall therefore do better another time.
These, then, are some of the many reasons why we must watch against this subtle temptation to substitute knowledge for obedience.

This excerpt is adapted from the first volume of Manning's sermons, published in 1843.

November/December 2008 Discipleship Journal, Issue 168, Pg. 90

Comments

Popular Posts