"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." [Proverbs 14:12] Ignorance is no excuse for error or sin, when there is every opportunity to know the will of God. A man is traveling, and comes to a place where there are several roads, and a guide-board indicating where each one leads. If he disregards the guide-board, and takes whichever road seems to him to be right, he may be ever so sincere, but will in all probability find himself on the wrong road.
God's word is given us that we may become acquainted with its teachings. We there read that if we do his will, we shall know of the doctrine. Ignorance will not excuse young or old, or release them from the punishment due for the transgression of God's law, because there is in their hands a faithful presentation of that law and of its principles and its claims. It is not enough to have good intentions; it is not enough to do what a man thinks is right, or what the minister tells him is right. His soul's salvation is at stake, and he should search the Scriptures for himself. However strong may be his convictions, however confident he may be that the minister knows what is truth, this is not his foundation. He has a chart pointing out every waymark on the heavenward journey, and he ought not to guess at anything, but to know what is truth. He should search the Scriptures on bended knees; morning, noon, and night, prayer should ascend from secret places, and a continual prayer should arise from his heart that God will guide him into all truth.
The word of God gives men no liberty to set up a standard of righteousness of their own, as many do who claim to be without sin. They do not compare their characters with the great standard, the law of Jehovah. While they are holy, judged by their own imperfect standard, the Scriptures present them as sinful Pharisees, under the condemnation of the law of God, which they transgress daily. They walk after the imagination of their own heart, and follow their own devices. Yet many of these persons are sincere. They think they are right; for "there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." [Proverbs 14:12] Feeling is no criterion for any one; the assertions of men are no evidence of truth. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." [Isaiah 8:20]
Men present many theories and doctrines, and this is the reason that so many claim to be sinless while they are transgressors of the law. Should they look into God's great mirror, they would start back with horror. They would say with Paul, "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." [Romans 7:9] Oh, how many forsake the "Fountain of living waters," [Jeremiah 2:13] and hew them out "cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." [Jeremiah 2:13] This is a correct representation of the spurious holiness so prevalent in the world today. But God's way is the humble way of penitence, faith, and obedience, and no human substitute will be accepted. "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." [Psalm 51:16-17] But all this vain boasting of holiness is not of God.
The Lord declared to ancient Israel, "Ye shall not do . . . . every man what is right in his own eyes;" [Deuteronomy 12:8] but ye shall "observe and hear all these words which I command thee." [Deuteronomy 12:28] And he promised them, "if thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and will give ear to his commandments," [Exodus 15:26] he "shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers," [Deuteronomy 7:12] and "thou shalt be blessed above all people." [Deuteronomy 7:14]
Will you, dear reader, examine critically the reasons of your faith by the law and the testimony? Satan has many by-paths strewn with tempting flowers, that lead directly to the broad way to death and hell. Our only safety is in the path of obedience. Men cannot follow their own desires, and be right. They not only involve their own souls in ruin, but by their example they imperil others also.
God is exact to mark iniquity. Sins of thoughtlessness, negligence, forgetfulness, and even ignorance, have been visited by some of the most wonderfully marked manifestations of his displeasure. Many who have suffered terrible punishment for their sins, might have pleaded as plausibly as do those of today who fall into similar errors, that they meant no harm, and some would even say that they thought they were doing God service; but the light shone on them, and they disregarded it.
Let us look at some of the examples found in sacred history. Assisted by his sons, Aaron had offered the sacrifices that God required; and he lifted up his hands and blessed the people. All had been done as God commanded, and he accepted the sacrifice, and revealed his glory in a most remarkable manner; for fire came from the Lord, and consumed the offering upon the altar. The people looked upon this wonderful manifestation of divine power with awe and intense interest. They saw in it a token of his glory and his favor, and they raised a universal shout of praise and adoration, and fell on their faces, as if in the immediate presence of Jehovah.
As the prayers and praise of the people were ascending before God, two of the sons of Aaron took each his censer, and burned fragrant incense thereon, to arise as a sweet odor before God. But they had partaken too freely of wine, and used strange fire, contrary to the Lord's commandment. And the wrath of God was kindled against Nadab and Abihu for their disobedience, and a fire went out from the Lord, and devoured them in the sight of the people. By this judgment God designed to teach the people that they must approach him with reverence and awe, and in his own appointed manner. He is not pleased with partial obedience. It was not enough that in this solemn season of worship nearly everything was done as he commanded.
The Lord sent Samuel to King Saul with a special message. "Go," [1 Samuel 15:3] he said, "and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." [1 Samuel 15:3] Saul was faithful and zealous in performing a part of his commission. He smote the Amalekites with a great slaughter; but he took the proposition of the people before the command of God, and spared Agag, the king, and "the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good."
The Lord commanded Saul to "utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed." [1 Samuel 15:18] The Lord knew that this wicked nation would, if it were possible, blot out his people and his worship from the earth; and for this reason he had commanded that even the little children should be cut off. But Saul had spared the king, the most wicked and merciless of them all; one who had hated and destroyed the people of God, and whose influence had been strongest to promote idolatry.
Saul thought he had done all that was essential of that which the Lord commanded him to do. Perhaps he even flattered himself that he was more merciful than his Maker, as do some unbelievers in our day. He met Samuel with the salutation, "Blessed be thou of the Lord; I have performed the commandment of the Lord." [1 Samuel 15:13] But when the prophet asked what meant the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen which he heard, Saul was obliged to confess that the people had taken of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord in Gilgal.
Did the Lord accept this justification of Saul's conduct? Was he pleased with this partial obedience, and willing to pass over the trifle that had been neglected out of so good a motive? Saul did what he thought was best, and would not the Lord commend such excellent judgment? No. Said Samuel, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king." [1 Samuel 15:22-23]
These instances show how God looks upon his professed people when they obey part of his commandments while in other respects they follow a course of their own choosing. Let no one flatter himself that a part of God's requirements are nonessential. He has placed no command in his word that men may obey or disobey at will, and not suffer the consequences. If men choose any other path than that of strict obedience, they will find that "the end thereof are the ways of death." [Proverbs 14:12]
Says the psalmist, "The law of the Lord is perfect." [Psalm 19:7] It is also changeless, the standard of righteousness, or right-doing, through all the ages. It is "the perfect law of liberty;" [James 1:25] hence the happiness of man as well as the glory of God demand that it be respected and obeyed.
God has highly honored his holy law. The ark of the testament, containing the law engraven on tables of stone, was the symbol of his presence with his people. This sacred ark was interwoven with the national history of the Israelites as well as with their religious faith. It was with them in their wanderings in the wilderness; and when the people passed over Jordan to take possession of the promised land, by the command of God the ark was borne by the priests into the midst of the river, and there remained until all Israel had passed over in the path that through the favor of God had been opened for them. It was often borne by the armies of Israel as a token that God was with his people, and made their cause his own. When this was the case, their enemies were terrified; for they knew that nothing could stand before the mighty God of Israel. But if they transgressed that law, they forfeited the divine protection, and were delivered into the hands of their enemies.
In consequence of the wickedness of the people, and because they rashly carried the emblem of his presence into the camp when the Lord was not with them, God gave the children of Israel into the hands of their enemies, the Philistines, and the ark was taken. But the heathen were not permitted to regard the sacred ark of God as a common thing. Dagon, their god, was humbled before it; and in every city where the ark was taken, the people were sorely afflicted. And the Philistines said, "The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us; for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god." [1 Samuel 5:7]
"The Philistines called for the priests and diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? Tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place." [1 Samuel 6:2] These men counseled the people not to send the ark away empty, but to return a trespass offering with it. Said they: "Ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel; peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart." [1 Samuel 6:5-7] And the Philistines did so; and they put the ark in the new cart, with the jewels of gold for a trespass offering in a coffer beside it.
The kine came with a straight course to Bethshemesh on the borders of Israel, and the men of Bethshemesh offered them as an offering unto the Lord. But when the Israelites, from motives of idle curiosity, looked familiarly into the ark, fifty thousand of them were slain for their rashness. The ark was then taken to Kirjath-jearim, and remained many years in the house of Abinadab.
Then came King David, with thirty thousand chosen men of Israel, to bring it to his own city, with music and rejoicing, with great display and with signal honors. The ark was carried in a new cart; and when they came to a rough place in the road, Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it. God had commanded that no hand but that of a consecrated priest should touch the sacred repository of his law, and special ceremonies of purification and preparation were enjoined; but Uzzah touched it with sinful, unhallowed hand, and was slain before the Lord. "And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" [2 Samuel 6:9] And he left the ark in the house of Obed-edom; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household because of the ark.
Thus God guarded with jealous care the ark that contained his holy law, that all might be deeply impressed with the sacred character of that law. It is no wonder that as the people witnessed the judgments inflicted upon those who despised the law of God or treated it with disrespect, they exclaimed, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" [1 Samuel 6:20 ] The law was ordained unto life, and is an expression of the love of God to man. To despise it is to despise its Author; for it partakes of the perfection of the divine character. To the transgressor it becomes, not a savor of life unto life, but of death unto death. Jesus magnified the law and made it honorable, by dying to satisfy its claims. He gave his life an offering for transgressions, that through his righteousness imputed to them, men might be reconciled to God, and escape the punishment due to disobedience.
And yet the law of God is almost universally despised and trampled upon, while human laws are exalted. There is a power that is called in the Scriptures the man of sin, that has thought to change this great standard of righteousness. He has torn the fourth commandment from the bosom of the decalogue, and in place of God's holy Sabbath has substituted one of his own invention. Those who accept this spurious Sabbath do great dishonor to the God of Heaven, and their offense is greatly exaggerated when they not only break the law themselves, but endeavor to lead others to disregard it also.
The Lord has specified that the seventh day is his Sabbath. "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." [Exodus 20:9-10] But a human institution has been made to take the place of the divine; another day has supplanted God's holy, sanctified rest-day. The Christian church accept this day in place of the one God has chosen, and present it to the world to be observed and reverenced. They thus show that they do not love the law of God, nor prize its righteous, restraining influence.
God has laid down the conditions of salvation. He requires that men keep his commandments as obedient children. The Holy Scriptures are full of lessons showing that God is satisfied with no partial obedience. He does not leave men to rely on their human judgment, and select that portion of his law which they choose to obey. They are required to have correct views of duty. They are not at liberty to accept what ignorant, sinful, feeble man may suggest, believe, or urge upon them; but they must take God's word, and walk in accordance with his revealed will.
God has given men reason, and the noblest use to which the intellectual faculties can be put is the study of his word. And when through diligent and prayerful application the will of God has been discerned, nothing should be allowed to come in between God and the soul to swerve it from the path of strict obedience. No suggestions of propriety, no motives of expediency, no selfish desire for gain, no fear of loss, dishonor, or reproach, should be considered for a moment. God commands, and that is enough. The light shines, and it is our duty to walk in it. If men substitute human customs and traditions for the precepts of God's law, and proclaim to the world that that law, or any part of that law, is no longer in force, however honest they may be, they are under the condemnation of the law, and will perish as transgressors.
If you accept unpopular truth, ministers may say, "You are too particular. In order to have influence with the world, you must do as the world does." But such men are acting as mouth-piece for Satan. They are preaching a doctrine that pleases him well. No authority of church or State, no decrees of kings or emperors, no commands of bishops or priests, can absolve you from obedience to the law of God, or justify the least departure from his requirements. Finite reasoning must not take the place of simple trust; self-will must not lead us in a course of disobedience.
Do not let the words of men who profess to be wise in the Scriptures deter you from searching them for yourself, or keep you back from obeying the precepts of Jehovah. Do not harbor the thought that some of the things taught in the Bible are nonessential. "To the law and to the testimony" [Isaiah 8:20] for proof. The problems of duty and destiny become clear only when studied in the light of God's revealed will. Amid the devices of Satan to which we are exposed, and the varied temptations that surround us, we have the sure promise of divine guidance. "Thy word," [Psalm 119:105] says David, "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." [Psalm 119:105; Revelation 22:14]