History shows clearly enough that true spirituality has never at any time been the possession of the masses. In any given period since the fall of the human race, only a few persons ever discerned the right way or walked in God's law. God's truth has never been popular. Wherever Christianity becomes popular, it is not on its way to die—it has already died. Popular Judaism slew the prophets and crucified Christ. Popular Christianity killed the Reformers, jailed the Quakers and drove John Wesley into the streets. When it comes to religion, the crowds are always wrong. At any time there are a few who see, and the rest are blinded. To stand by the truth of God against the current religious vogue is always unpopular and may be downright dangerous. The historic church, while she was a hated minority group, had a moral power that made her terrible to evil and invincible before her foes. When the Roman masses, without change of heart, were made Christian by baptism, Christianity gained popularity and lost her spiritual glow. From there she went on to adopt the ways of Rome and to follow her pagan religions. The fish caught the fisherman, and what started out to be the conversion of Rome became finally the conversion of the church. From that ignominious captivity the church has never been fully delivered.
In recent times, we have developed a peace-loving, soft-spoken, tame and harmless brand of Christian of whom the world has no fear and for whom it has little respect. We are careful, for instance, never to speak in public against any of the false cults lest we be thought intolerant. We fear to talk against the destructive sins of modern civilization for fear someone will brand us as bigoted and narrow. Little by little we have been forced off the hard earth into a religious “cloud-land,” where we are permitted to wing our harmless way around like swallows at sundown, saying nothing that might stir the ire of the sons of this world. That neo-Christianity, which seems for the time to be the most popular (and is certainly the most aggressive), is very careful not to oppose sin. It wins its crowds by amusing them and its converts by hiding from them the full implications of the Christian message. It carries on its projects after the ballyhoo methods of American business. Well might we paraphrase Wordsworth and cry, “Elijah, thou shouldst be living at this hour; America has need of thee.” We stand in desperate need of a few men like Elijah who will dare to face up to the brazen sinners who dictate our every way of life. Sin in the full proportions of a revolution or a plague has all but destroyed our civilization while church people have played like children in the marketplace. What has happened to the spirit of the American Christian? Has our gold become dim? Have we lost the spirit of discernment till we can no longer recognize our captors? How much longer will we hide in caves while Ahab and Jezebel continue to pollute the temple and ravage the land? Surely, we should give this some serious thought and prayer before it is too late—if indeed it is not too late already.
The nearer we draw to the heart of God the less taste we will have for controversy. The peace we know in God’s bosom is so sweet that it is but natural that we want to keep it unbroken to enjoy as fully and as long as possible. The Spirit-filled Christian is never a good fighter. He is at too many disadvantages. The enemy is always better at invective than he will allow himself to be. The devil has all the picturesque epithets, and his followers have no conscience about using them. The Christian is always more at home blessing than he is opposing. He is, moreover, much thinner-skinned than his adversaries. He shrinks from an angry countenance and draws back from bitter words. They are symbols of a world he has long ago forsaken for the quiet of the kingdom of God, where love and good will prevail. All this is in his favor, for it marks him out as a man in whom there is no hate and who earnestly desires to live at peace with all men. In spite of his sincere longing for peace, however, there will be times when he dare not allow himself to enjoy it. There are times when it is a sin to be at peace. There are circumstances when there is nothing to do but to stand up and vigorously oppose. To wink at iniquity for the sake of peace is not a proof of superior spirituality; it is rather a sign of a reprehensible timidity, which dare not oppose sin for fear of the consequences. For it will cost us heavily to stand for the right when the wrong is in the majority, which is 100 percent of the time.
The moral company in which he finds himself further embarrasses the complainer. His is a spiritual affinity with some pretty shady characters: Cain, Korah, the sulky elder brother, the petulant Jews of the Book of Malachi who answered every fatherly admonition of God with an ill-humored "Wherefore have we? Wherein have we?" These are but a few faces that stand out in the picture of the disgruntled followers of the religious way. And the complaining Christian, if he but looks closely, will see his own face peering out at him from the background. Lastly, the believer who complains against the difficulties of the way proves that he has never felt or known the sorrows which broke over the head of Christ when He was here among men. After one look at Gethsemane or Calvary, the Christian can never again believe that his own path is a hard one. We dare not compare our trifling pains with the sublime passion endured for our salvation. Any comparison would itself be the supreme argument against our complaints, for what sorrow is like unto His? After saying all this, we are yet sure that no one can be reasoned out of the habit of complaining. That habit is more than a habit—it is a disease of the soul, and as such, it will never yield to mere logic. The only cure is cleansing in the blood of the Lamb.
Among those sins most exquisitely fitted to injure the soul and destroy the testimony, few can equal the sin of complaining. Yet the habit is so widespread that we hardly notice it among us. The complaining heart never lacks for occasion. It can always find reason enough to be unhappy. The object of its censure may be almost anything: the weather, the church, the difficulties of the way, other Christians, or even God Himself. A complaining Christian puts himself in a position morally untenable. The simple logic of his professed discipleship is against him with an unanswerable argument. Its reasoning runs like this: First, he is a Christian because he chose to be. There are no conscripts in the army of God. He is, therefore, in the awkward position of complaining against the very conditions he brought himself into by his own free choice. Secondly, he can quit any time he desires. No Christian wears a chain on his leg. Yet he still continues on, grumbling as he goes; and for such conduct he has no defense.