Every good writing teacher tells us to narrow our topic because the sure sign of a novice is a paper entitled “The Universe and Everything in It.” Yet The Conflict of the Ages can rightfully include every thought every man has ever made. Augustine’s City of God, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae are three attempts at this daunting task, yet they are incomplete. This brief overview, The Conflict of the Ages, will include information not available to Augustine, John Calvin or Thomas Aquinas. I also hope, by the grace of God, to make this much shorter work easier to understand for the modern mind. All Scripture references are from the KJV, unless otherwise noted.
The Conflict of the Ages references hundreds of authors, yet one source needs special mention. The website Sacred Texts by J.B. Hare is the largest collection of public domain material of which I am aware. The entire website of over one thousand books is available for purchase on either CD ROM or DVD ROM. All of the ancient texts I source are public domain books from this collection. A problem with this or any other collection is proving the validity of the primary sources. Though I do not know anything about J. B. Hare, except the information posted on his website, I believe that he faithfully and accurately scanned the texts. The problem is, are the texts reliable? Since they are public domain, they are older and sometimes not the latest translations. I am confident, however, that they are acceptable. Some sources I use are books where Westerners lived among a tribe and wrote down oral traditions. Though we trust that the authors accurately recorded the oral traditions, how much ‘contamination’ with outside influences shaped these oral traditions? The Lore of the Whare-Wananga, a New Zealand tribe, is well documented by the translator S. Percy Smith to be older than outside influences and free of ‘contamination.’ Myths of the Cherokee by James Mooney, however, was published in 1900 after more than 250 years of wars and close contact with outsiders. The level of outside influence on the oral traditions of the North American Indians is impossible to measure or deny.
I. Desire and Interest
No power on earth can substitute for desire and interest. In the oldest written human record, The Epic of Gilgamesh, men are controlled by gods and goddesses through their desires. Children who want something can do unimaginable amounts of work to fulfill their desires when no amount of coercion can force them to fulfill their responsibilities. God has given us the responsibility is to control our desires.
A. Personal Responsibility
Some responsibilities we can ignore and others can do them for us, such as washing dishes or taking out the trash. Some can do other responsibilities for us with great difficulty, such as bathing an invalid. But some responsibilities cannot be done by anyone else. No one can memorize for us. No one else can change our will. Other people can change circumstances to force us to do something against our will, but no one can honestly change another person’s will.
1. Get Wisdom and Understanding
The purpose of this is to help us obey the command Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:7. “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” The way Solomon uses the word wisdom is close to our idea of skill. It means a combination of the knowledge necessary for a task and the discipline to do the task correctly. Solomon exhorts us to use all of our strength and ability to become knowledgeable and skillful in doing what is right and best. He put it another way in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
2. Study Commanded
However, even when we have no burning desire, we are still commanded to sturdy. 2 Timothy 2:15: :Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This is not referring to bookwork only, but is similar to what Solomon calls wisdom. It means learning what is right and doing what is right. This is a little clearer in Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 4:1: “Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.”
3. Keep at it; a little at a time
Isaiah said in 28:10 and 13, “Precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” A strict interpretation of the passage is Israelites listening to another language in captivity. However, the same principles apply to any type of study, even involuntary. Keep at it, a little at a time.
B. Attitude of the World
Charles Stanley has often said that attitude is what controls us, that it is the most important thing in our lives. The attitude of the world is self indulgence, pleasure. Self-discipline is only important when the end result is greater pleasure.
1. Love not the World
I John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. The attitude of self-indulgence is at war with the love of God. This is a simple, though difficult, decision which everyone must make. 1 John 2:17: “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
2. Learn not the way of the heathen
Jeremiah 10:2: “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen.” Where John writes about the attitude of the world, Jeremiah writes about that attitude carried out into action. Once again a simple, though difficult command.
C. Study is difficult
Some people might find study a way of escaping other responsibilities. A very tiny number of people find study enjoyable. Most people, however, would rather do just about anything rather than study. Remaining focused on the subject of study is tiring and difficult.
1. No end to book.
Solomon said, in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” No one has the time to do all the studying he believes that he should. Other responsibilities interfere. No one could have ever read all the books he should have. There simply are too many books and life is too short.
2. Study wearies the flesh
Study is one of the most fatiguing tasks God has given to the children of men. He has given us the responsibility to balance the tasks in our lives for His glory. But just because a task is difficult does not mean that we should ignore it.
Proverbs 23:23: “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. “
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Honesty and truth are similar, but not quite the same. Diogenes searched for an honest man, yet he never claimed to be one. Searching for honesty in others is certainly frustrating, but searching for truth can be quite fulfilling. Truth is an absolute, independent of the sinner. Honesty is a character trait. Since we are all sinners, each of us can be honest and truthful at one time and dishonest at another. A man unfaithful to his wife might be trustworthy with large amounts of money. A woman who lies to get a promotion at work might never even consider stealing from that same employer.
A. We are self-deceived.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
I John 1:8-10: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
We are born self-deceived and nothing we can do will change our basic nature.
1. We do what we want to do: Pride
Putting our own desires ahead of doing or thinking what is right is the essence of pride. Monks in the Middle Ages who gave up all their personal goods and rights would fight over a pen, simply because it was assigned to them. Apart from yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit, we are all proud. We ignore our pride by looking for pride in others.
2. What we want to do is not what is best.
This is a more subtle form of pride. We choose to do something that we are convinced is best, simply because it is what we want to do. The first and more obvious form of pride is simply doing what we want. This is convincing ourselves, and often others, that our course of action is best. True love is doing what is best for the ones we love. It is also honest.
B. Honesty is the greatest need on earth.
Complete honesty will begin by admitting that we are sinners and finish in Jesus Christ. Without honesty, neither individuals nor the human race has any hope. Wars are the result of national dishonesty. Endless fights are the result of personal dishonesty. Dishonesty is the root cause for personal destruction. Dishonesty is the root cause for family disintegration, national disintegration and ultimately, wars.
C. According to the Word of God, everyone who was ever born or ever will be born falls into one of three categories.
The Bible is a record of believers. Adam is a believer. So also are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, John, Mary, Peter, Paul and many more. They are also, as we are, sinners. Their sins are recorded along with their faith.
The Bible is a record of triumph over unbelievers. Balak, Goliath, Jezebel and her prophets of Baal, Sennacherib, the Philistines, Tobiah and many others openly defied the living God. Their destruction is accurately recorded.
These are men who knew the Living God and chose to rebel against Him. Today we might say that these are men who want their freedom. Lot, Balaam, Samson, Saul the first king of Israel and Esau fall into this category. Without additional revelation, it is not possible to know if these men were believers or not. Their sins destroyed others and their life stories are great tragedies.
Very few people who look at beautiful cabinets wonder what kind of tools made them. Like those cabinets, very few people who look at our lives will wonder what kind of tools shaped us into what we are today. Tools, and skillful use of those tools, however, are essential for shaping us. We must not get wrapped up in the tools themselves, but keep our eyes focused on the ultimate goal, the ‘finished product.’
A. Designed for unbelievers or weak believers
If we look at ourselves honestly, each of us must admit that in at least some area of his life he is a weak believer. Only pride will toss aside these tools with the attitude of ‘I have progressed beyond this.’
1. Apologetics: Francis Schaeffer, Josh Mac Dowell
The science of Apologetics is the systematic defense of the Faith. It does not mean to apologize for. I am not endorsing any of the men I mention simply because I do not know enough about them. All men change from day to day. I am, however, endorsing these books. Josh MacDowell wrote two excellent books, Evidence that Demands a Verdict and More Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Both books now have been combined into The New evidence that Demands a Verdict. These books use an outline format that makes the information easy to understand. It is similar in format to many doctrines books, with a lot of information in a small space.
Francis Schaeffer, who is now with the Lord, wrote many books in prose. His books are easy to read, though the subject matter is difficult. His major apologetic work is The God Who Is There. Francis Schaeffer not only shows that God exists, but also that He is a God of Love. Each work of his that I have read remained focus on his main point and was a delight to read. If you do not enjoy outlines, I highly recommend Francis Schaeffer.
I realize that most people either skimmed over or skipped entirely my emphasis on honesty and the dangers of pride. The following is one example of why honesty and avoiding pride are so important. The source of this piece is the website http://www.infidels.org. Jeffrey Jay Lowder lists himself as editor. “Many readers will recognize me as the editor of a comprehensive Internet rebuttal to Volume I of McDowell’s Evidence. Yet McDowell completely ignored our criticisms in his “fully updated” New Evidence. This cannot be due to ignorance. I have personally tried to correspond with Mr. McDowell twice; each time I received no acknowledgement.” When I clicked on the rebuttal, I found a series of authors, with Mr Lowder writing the introduction. In the introduction he writes that the purpose for writing these articles is that “ETDAV is also arguably the most influential Christian apologetics book on the Internet, which is what led the Internet Infidels to write The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence”.” The first author, Farrell Till, writes in his opening paragraph:
“In ETDAV, McDowell begins his defense of the Bible with the claim that it is unique. He parades before us an array of ‘scholars’ to testify to various features of the Bible that qualify it to be considered ‘different from all others [books],’ as if anyone would seriously try to deny that the Bible is unique, i.e., different from all others. At the very beginning of my analysis of this chapter of ETDAV, I will concede that the Bible is undeniably unique. Certainly, there is no other book like it, but this fact, as we will see, becomes more of an embarrassment to the Bible than proof of its divine origin.”
This is character assassination, a tactic they frequently use, as well as flawed logic. The poor writing style makes any kind of an intelligent response difficult. Rather than angering these people with points they do not understand, we need to look at the real issue, honesty.