In the Hands of Mortal Men

According the Academic American Encyclopedia, Augustine was second only to Paul as a shaper of Christian theology. Included in his teachings were the erroneous doctrines of original sin and of predestination. During the Middle Ages, the harsh procedures of the Inquisition were defended by appealing to the biblical practices of the church and to Augustine's interpretation of Luke 14:23 as endorsing the use of force against heretics. In the hands of mortal men, the sharp two-edged sword which is the Word of God wrought barbaric tortures, imprisonments, and death, often by burning at the stake.

European witchcraft combined the idea of harmful sorcery with that of serving Satan, thus witchcraft was punishable by both church and state. These ideas crossed over to the Americas with the European colonists. Those who practiced, or who were thought to practice, witchcraft were tried. The jurors for the famous Salem witch trials of 1692 were drawn from church membership. Twenty-seven persons were convicted, nineteen of whom were hanged and one of whom was stoned to death. Later, the jurors admitted their error. The judge publicly admitted his culpability, as did also the minister who had been the chief witness against one of the young girls over whom the Salem witch hysteria had begun.

But then, those were the darker aspects of Christian history, were they not? Those things do not happen today. We are enlightened. We in the church of our Lord have more knowledge of the Scriptures. We could not possibly make errors as serious as those. Or could we?

Paul instructed the Ephesians: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). The word translated "sword" comes from the Greek "machaira," which Young's Analytical Concordance defines as a fighting weapon. Jesus, using the same word, said, "Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:37). From these passages we can safely deduct that it is right and proper to use the Scriptures as a weapon against the devil and against all untruth. But I wonder. In our defense of the truth do we make a distinction between sin and the sinner? Do we sometimes get to slashing that sword around and slash our brethren for whom Christ died?

Now, let us apply that thought to our everyday living. Most of us are not often in the position of publicly defending the truth. But we do use the sword of the Spirit daily. Most of us can quote Scripture well. But do we know how and when to use it? Do we sometimes wound the very person we are trying to help?

When we attempt to use the sword of the Spirit to help our brethren, do we know all the facts of his situation? The Scripture we use is true. But that particular Scripture may not be the one that is applicable to his situation. Let me illustrate this with a personal example.

The Lord has given me a talent for writing. While I do write occasionally, most of my time at present is spent pursuing my education so that I may more effectively glorify God. Some times after one of my articles is published, someone will approach me with the parable of the talents and tell me that I should be writing more and using the talent God has given me. Some even indicate that pursuing further education is wasting time that should be spent using my talent for writing. The statement that one should not waste the talent God has given him is truth. But yet another truth prevails. One may have more than one talent, and he must use ALL the talents he has. And to do this he must take the time and effort to discover and to develop those talents. If I did not have the firm support of those who know me best and of my elders, I might well be slain by the sword of the Word of God wielded by those who would help, but lack skill in using it properly. You see, I might use the one talent -- but bury four others.

Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart." Surely the Scriptures have the power to bring healing to a troubled heart! But that powerful sword is wielded by mortal hands. We must learn to be skillful in its use lest we, like Peter who cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant, interfere with what God plans.

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive