A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinMay 8, 1994
But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Mt 5:37)
There is a famous Shaker hymn which goes:
It’s a gift to be simple,
It’s a gift to be free,
It’s a gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we see ourselves in a way that’s right,
We will live in a valley of love and delight!
When true simplicity is gained,
To live and to love we will not be ashamed,
To turn and to turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning
We turn ’round right.
Life is more enjoyable and free when there is simplicity. The more things are clear for us, the more we are at peace. The more complex things are, the less confident we will be about our situations. For example, we may face a problem. The more we understand the nature of the problem, the greater confidence we have of coming up with a solution. The less we understand the nature of the problem, the more anxious and uncertain we will be about it. The Lord wills that all of us be in simplicity. Only by being simple people can the Lord make heaven known to us.
This does not mean that we are to be simple- minded. We are not to permanently have just a general knowledge of what the Lord teaches. Nor are we to have a blind faith that is dependant upon others for what we are to believe in and how we are to live. We are to continually have a deeper understanding about the Lord and we are to be able to make decisions about what we regard as spiritually true. We certainly can always learn from others, but we are to be able to make our own judgments about what is right and wrong. Proper simplicity does not invalidate a study and reflection of the Word. We are encouraged to examine truths from the Word in greater detail. The more we study the Word, the more we can see the Lord as a God of mercy. The Lord once said,
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Mt 11:28-30)
We are to try to resolve apparent contradictions between passages in the Word and we are to gather passages together so they form a unified doctrine to live by.
We learn truth in two ways. First, by reading, memorizing, and studying the Word. The second way is through the application of what the Word teaches. When we seek to comply with what the Word instructs, we will understand the Lord’s teachings in greater depth. We have greater insights into what is involved in a true worship of the Lord and in charity towards the neighbor. The application of truths from the Word requires simplicity. Simplicity is the fundamental determination to obey the Lord in every area of our lives.
When we have the simple attitude to obey the Lord, and take steps to conform our lives to His teachings, a perception of good will develop in us. This perception gives us a greater confidence that the principles we are living by are truths from the Lord. They also bring an added depth as to how the Lord wants us to conduct our lives. We would not have this recognition if we just knew what the Word said but did not seek to apply the teachings to life. Our knowledge of the Lord advances significantly when we simply strive to obey the Word.
The man who was born blind is an example of the perception of good that comes from a simple belief and commitment to the Lord. After this man was miraculously healed of his blindness, he was severely interrogated by the Lord’s enemies. Despite their threats, he would not renounce Him. Eventually, he bravely spoke:
Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see. Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing. (Jn 9:25,32,33)
This particular man knew very little about the Lord. Yet, his desire to be fair and good enabled him to recognize that the Lord was not a sinner but sent from God. This is the perception that is developed when we dedicate ourselves to do what is truly right.
It is interesting to note that this perception of good that comes from within grows without us being aware of it. We do not notice that our understanding of good is continually increasing. It seems that our awareness remains the same. The reason why we do not fully recognize our progress in perceiving what is good is so we can remain in humility and not have the tendency of plunging into self-conceit. However, this perception is indeed growing and from it we are becoming wise. One definition that the Writings give of wisdom is not a great measure of intellectual knowledge, but rather, the doing of good from a good intention. The more our desires to obey the Lord are simple, the more we are open for the Lord to make us wise. Simplicity enables us to be wise.
There are steps we can take to be in the proper simplicity that brings wisdom to life. In fact, there are four things to keep in mind to have the proper simplicity in life. First, there must be a lack of pride. Secondly, we must not make any assumptions of what is true. Thirdly, we are to desire to see truth from the Lord, not from self. And fourthly, we are to have as our highest love a love to the Lord. This love must be the source of our love of our neighbor. If these four ingredients are active within us, we are in the proper simplicity that will enable us to be receptive of the Lord’s will.
First, we are to avoid any type of pride within ourselves. This point is rather obvious. If we feel that we ourselves can determine what is good, than there is no willingness to be taught from the Lord. We must constantly recognize that knowing and perceiving what is good is from the Lord operating within us. If we regularly remind ourselves that we are dependent upon the Lord to know and perform what is good, that reminder will be enough to keep us in humility towards Him. The more we are in humility, the more we are willing to be led by the Lord. This willingness is a vital ingredient to be in the simplicity that leads to genuine wisdom.
Secondly, we are not to make assumptions of what is true. The Writings explain that we are to always have an open mind in determining what is good. There must always be a willingness to change our assessment of what is proper when shown or taught. When we have an open mind, that does not mean that our foundation in doctrine is damaged or destroyed. We will not drift from one sweet sounding theory to another. Our doctrine of truth, especially if it presents the Lord as the one God, will keep us from being seduced into going astray towards some belief that will distract us from worshipping the Lord alone. But we are never to have the opinion that our particular beliefs will never change, no matter what we are presented with. If something better and more accurate were to come before us, we must be receptive of it. We are to be devoted to what we believe, but we are to always be prepared to alter our beliefs if it enables us to worship the Lord more directly and allows us to love and serve our neighbor more effectively.
Third, we are to desire to recognize truths from the Lord, not from ourselves. This means that once we recognize what we are to do we must immediately do it. We must not wait until we feel it is the proper time to apply it. From time to time we will know that a certain discipline is required to promote spiritual good. Quite often, the action required is not what we instinctively would prefer. In those situations, we must not wait to comply with what is necessary to be done. Once we see that it brings greater honor to the Lord and enhances our services towards our neighbor we must spontaneously do it. If we only do what is good only if we feel like it, invariably, we will make excuses for not doing it or altering it in some way. Once we recognize what the Lord wants us to do, we must do it immediately. Simplicity allows us to do what is right spontaneously when we sense it.
And fourth, we are to have a love of the Lord as the central desire in our love of our neighbor. And this in turn must be the central focus in our actions of charity. We are not in simplicity if love towards the Lord is not our most primary love. The Lord stated what our simple approach to life should be: “To love the Lord above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.” This command is not complicated to understand. Yet, if this is our main goal in life, then the Lord is able to lead us into His Kingdom.
When these four avenues are applied to our lives, we are simple people. We are receptive of the Lord’s love and guidance. We will therefrom enjoy the benefits of being in simplicity. We will have a clear vision for our purpose of life. We will have a clearer understanding what we can accomplish and who we can have a positive influence upon for their benefit. We will be protected from being led astray into harmful practices. We will not be impressed with the craftiness of the wicked in getting away with their evil desires. Yes, the simple good can be deceived and temporally influenced by hypocrites, but they have to put on a pretense of being genuinely good to do so. They can not stimulate their natural desires and appetites to have influence over them. And eventually, their deceptions are brought to view. And finally, when we are simple, the Word becomes alive. We are able to see deeper meanings and instructions in the Word that would not be seen if we only read the Word just to know what it says. We see deeper things in the Word because the Word is being applied to life spontaneously. This is how wisdom is contained in simplicity.
Simplicity is not just a discipline that is to be applied in our worship or what we regard as the principles of life. Simplicity is applicable in our marriages. If something presents itself to us that will harm our spouse, we are simply not to do it. In our employments, we are simply to be an honest and faithful worker. Simplicity even is applied in the partaking of the Holy Supper. The Writings state that the angels can respond to the person who is simply thinking about the bread being the Lord’s body and the wine being His blood. When there is the simple approach to our lives that we will do what is right, regardless of the sacrifice required, we will indeed increase our awareness of what is good, and we will be a positive influence upon those we have contact with.
The Word is full of wonders that we are to pursue. We should always be active in having a greater knowledge of what the Word says and teaches about life. But the manner in which we live should be very simple and basic: “If it is right I will do it, if it is wrong I will not do it”. Our studies of the Word should have the primary intent of better defining what we are to accept and what we are to reject. Let this Psalm be our prayer, “Create in me a heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)