Identification of the Godly
by Arthur Pink
In a day like the present, when, because of the abounding of iniquity, the love of many has waxed cold—it might be thought that it is no easy matter to distinguish the genuine from the spurious, the living Christian from the lifeless professor. But that is a mistaken notion. The very opposite is the case, as a little reflection should intimate to those favored with spiritual understanding. It is in times of revival, when the Spirit of God is working mightily in a community, that many are temporarily awakened, convicted of their sins and have their emotions deeply stirred. Though not regenerated, impressions are made upon them, and fearing the wrath to come—they exercise a natural and temporary faith in Christ—and find peace therein.
Such are they who "receive the word with joy" (Luke 8:13)—yet have they "no root in themselves" (Mark 4:17; Matthew 13:20). They float with the tide of revival, and are carried into companies of God's people; but as Matthew 13:21 goes on to say, they endure "for a while" only, for their goodness is "as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away" (Hosea 6:4).
What we have pointed out above—unpalatable as it may be to those who like to think that all which glitters is real gold—is illustrated and demonstrated all through religious history. We are plainly told that the Lord "called him [Abraham] alone" (Isaiah 51:2) when He bade him leave Chaldea and go forth unto a better inheritance. Yet Genesis 11:31 tells us that Terah his, father, accompanied him "to go into the land of Canaan;" but he never arrived there, dying at Haran (verse 32) which means, "Half-way." When the Lord put forth His mighty hand and delivered the Hebrews from the house of bondage, we are told that, "a mixed multitude went up also with them" (Exodus 12:38)! That mixed multitude soon became a thorn in Israel's side, for they were the ones who "fell a lusting" for the fleshpots of Egypt and evilly influenced God's people to become dissatisfied with the manna (Num 11:4, 5). Just as surely as Israel's exodus from Egypt was a Divinely- designed type of the redemption of God's elect, so that "mixed multitude" who joined themselves unto them foreshadowed the crowd of empty professors who have ever associated with them.
At a later date, when God wrought so wondrously through Joshua, we read of the Gibeonites who determined to throw in their lot with Israel, and so cleverly did they pose as "strangers and pilgrims" that God's servant was deceived by them. They came to him with the language of piety, saying, "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt," etc. (Joshua 9:9, 10), which serves to illustrate the same principle and fact.
We all know how it was with Christ during the days of His earthly ministry. Speaking as never men spoke, going about doing good, working miracles, great multitudes flocked to Him, many "believed in his name," yet with a non-saving faith (John 2:23, 24) and "walked with" Him as His "disciples" for a season—but later deserted Him (John 6:66). While they "walked with" Him, do you suppose that it was easy to perceive their real character? No indeed, as our Lord's next words to the apostles indicate: "Will you also go away?" (John 6:67). It was only when the hour of testing came, that their real character was revealed.
And thus it has been all through the centuries of this Christian era. When the Holy Spirit has wrought in power, regenerating and reviving the elect, a "mixed multitude" has always joined their ranks, and while the revival continued, it was rarely possible for human judgment to distinguish the tares from the wheat.
Thus, it was in the blessed days of the Reformers and the early Puritans. Thus, it was under the preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon. But such is very far from being the case now or for many years past. Our lot is cast in a day when the Spirit is "grieved," and His power withheld, when in most places, He has been "quenched" and His presence withdrawn. Over the great majority of "churches" and "chapels," the sentence is written, "your house is left unto you desolate!" and though the services are continued, they are lifeless and unctionless; and though new members are still added, they are but barren branches as their fruitless lives evidence; and thus, they are easily distinguished from the genuine saint, and so are very different in caliber from the professors of earlier and better times.
It is the Spirit's holy presence and gracious operations which make all the difference, not only to the regenerate but also to the unregenerate. There are His general operations, as well as particular—the former being His work upon the many, while the latter is His quickening work within only a few. Even the ungodly who attend services where the power of an ungrieved Spirit is felt, are at least sobered and awed, many moved unto a reformation of life, and not a few to make a profession and unite with God's people; and if their profession is to be credited, their walk must be orderly. But in a day when the Spirit is "quenched," His powerful operations more or less cease, and then the whole tone of things is rapidly lowered, and professors with a disorderly walk can still maintain their standing; nevertheless, they are much more easily recognized! There is no good reason why any child of God should be mistaken about empty professors. He has but to measure them, as he should himself also, by the unerring standard of God's Word.
In it, the Lord has plainly described His people by many different 'marks', by which they may be identified. We will look at one now which is less known and about which far less is written and said than about many others. "Yes, and all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Observe how searching that assertion is: Not "some" but all; not "may" but "shall suffer persecution," if they will (are determined) to "live godly." What is godly living? It is giving God His due place in our hearts and lives. It is to spurn the customs of this world, to lean not unto our own understanding—but to have our character and conduct formed and regulated by the Word. It is sincerely and earnestly seeking to please God in all things. It is for the graces of faith, hope and love to be constantly exercised upon Him—so that they bring forth their appropriate fruits.
Now those who will "live godly"—all of them who do so, "shall suffer persecution." They have always done so, and they always will in this world. Godly Abel was persecuted by Cain, Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael, David was persecuted by Saul, the prophets were persecuted by the apostates, Christ was persecuted by the Jews. And both Scripture and history show that persecution has always come most from nominal saints, from the professing Christian world.
True, there are various degrees of persecution: From the sneer and cold shoulder, to being dis-fellowshipped by the church; from being dubbed "puritanical," to being placed in the stocks.
So also persecution takes different forms: As it exists in the heart, issues from the tongue, or by actions; but generally, it is done under the cloak of religion.
Now, a professing Christian may escape "persecution" by merely compromising. But he will not call it that; rather, does he say, "he is avoiding extremes," "acting prudently," etc. But real Christians refuse to trim their sails; and therefore, they will, do, and must—suffer persecution. Reader, if you are not being persecuted in some form or other—you are not entitled to regard yourself as living a godly life.
There are those who believe that "persecution" in a more pronounced form is soon to be the lot of Christendom. Personally, we emphatically dissent. Most certainly what is known as "organized Christianity" is not on the eve of being persecuted as in earlier ages. Why are we so dogmatic? Because Satan is the author of persecution, and he will not stir up opposition against the "churches" as they now are. He is only too well pleased to leave them alone in their heterodoxy or dead formality. There is far too little of godliness prevailing in them today to cause Satan any uneasiness! The strong man armed has full possession of the hearts of windy professors; and therefore, he lets them rest in a false peace. But if the Spirit should again work in an unmistakable manner—outside in "the wilderness"—then the Devil would rage and stir up his ecclesiastical agents to do everything in their power to put a stop to it. But he is still opposing godly livers, and by his opposition, we may identify them.
"When a strong man armed keeps his palace, his goods are in peace" (Luke 11:21). The "strong man" here is Satan, as the context shows. His "palace" has a double reference: Individually, it signifies the sinner's heart, in which the Devil resides and rules. Collectively, it is an apostate Christendom, where he presides as "god" of the religious world (2 Corinthians 4:4). His "goods" are the faculties of the individual soul and his deluded victims in the corporate company. But what we would specially observe, is that Satan preserves his goods "in peace." There is no ceaseless conflict within the one whom Satan "keeps," but rather, the sleep of death. So in his "synagogue" (Revelation 2:9), he keeps its members at peace with each other. It is the saints—those who are determined by grace to "live godly"—that are the objects of his malice, and against whom he stirs up persecution, using when he can, professing Christians as his instruments.
Above, we virtually covered the ground intended; but after pondering the same, we feel there are one or two points rather in need of clarification and amplification. For example, the presence of so many nominal Christians among the regenerate, and the task of distinguishing the one from the other. It is true that in every age, there have been a large number of empty professors; yet for the most part, they were easily recognised—by those who measured their outward conduct by the rules of Scripture.
It is equally true that some of God's own children suffer spiritual declines; and while they are in a backslidden state, they differ, practically, very little from the unregenerate; as Paul said of the Galatians, "I stand in doubt of you" (Galatians 4:20). Backsliders have no Scriptural warrant to regard themselves as children of God; still less to expect others to accredit them as such. But it is not of them we write; but rather of the ones who bear the marks of those who are in Christ Jesus.
"All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). It is to be duly noted, that this verse occurs in a passage which describes a time of apostasy; and therefore, it is one which is most pertinent to our own day. "The last days" of verse 1 do not signify the closing days of this era—but mean this Christian age itself, which is the final one in the earth's history. In this Christian age, there would be "perilous times" (2 Timothy 3:1), there would occur and recur seasons of declension and departure from God, for the passage is describing not the profane world—but the professing world; not the character and condition of men in general—but that of nominal Christians in particular. This is clear from "lovers of pleasures, more than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4), for those in the professing world do not pretend unto any love for Him.
It is further borne out by what is said in verse 5. It is this feature of it which makes the passage of such deep importance to us at the present juncture.
Now, if one carefully notes the different characteristics enumerated in verses 2 to 4, there should be no difficulty in identifying those who possess the same. Not that all of those features are stamped on each one of them—yet sufficient to classify them. And it is not the slightest breach of charity—but rather, a sober statement of fact—when we say that many, in fact most, of those very features are now borne by the majority of "church members" professing to be Christians; yet who are highly indignant if anyone dared to challenge their claim! But God requires us to judge them and act accordingly: "Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Timothy 3:5). This clearly implies two things: That God's people are able to clearly recognize such characters; and that they must have no fellowship with them.
Should they disregard that injunction, the consequences would be most serious—compare Revelation 18:4-5, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes."
Those mentioned in verse 5—and there are a multitude of such today—are described as, first, "having a form of godliness," which means that they have a religious veneer. They bear the name of Christ, belong to some so-called evangelical church, and seek to create the impression that they are regenerate people. But like the foolish virgins, they "took their lamps—and took no oil with them" (Matthew 25:3, 4), they are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, nor made partakers of the transforming grace of God. For it is said of them, secondly, "but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5), the reality of vital godliness is lacking, the beauties of holiness are not found in them. By their lips, they claim to be godly—but by their lives, they give the lie to it. "They profess that they know God; but in works they DENY him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16). And with such, the children of God are to have nothing to do—to shun them as they would the plague!
In contrast from such characters, the apostle said to Timothy, "But you have fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions" (2 Timothy 3:10, 11).
There is the genuine gold—set over against the tinsel. There is the power of godliness, set over against the mere "form" of it. It consists of soundness in doctrine, for where there is not that, there can be none of the others. It consists of a definitely-marked "manner of life," treading the path of obedience, in subjection to God's authority. It consists of the presence and exercise of spiritual graces. It consists of evoking and encountering the hatred and opposition of godless religionists. Then Paul adds—as though to say, my testimony and experience is common to the redeemed, "Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
Once more, we would emphasize the fact that 2 Timothy 3:12 occurs in a passage which is describing a season of declension and departure from God—as the verse which immediately follows also goes on to show. Those seasons of declension are designated "perilous times" in the opening verse of the chapter; and therefore, we must supply answer to the question, What is it that particularly constitutes any "time" or season "perilous" to Christendom? Surely, the reply is obvious: It is the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit's power, when His gracious operations and unction are withheld, because insult has been done to Him. Then it is that the restraining hand of God is also removed, and the flesh is given more or less free rein. The consequences are obvious: Instead of peace, there will be strife, prayer becomes formal, preaching is flat and profitless, hoary "tradition" supplants "the present truth" (2 Peter 1:12); and a dead orthodoxy is the result.
Soon, a dead orthodoxy is followed by heterodoxy, the Scriptural standard is lowered, worldliness comes in apace, and Christ is shut out (Revelation 3:20).
"But evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). It is religious "seducers" who are in view, the unregenerate men who occupy most of our pulpits today; and who by their "form of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5) delude the unwary—delude them, because they fail to perceive that their lives (moral and respectable though they be) deny the power or reality and efficacy of the same.
"Perilous" indeed is a season when such preachers abound! And what the special word to us at such a time? The next verse answers: "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of" (2 Timothy 3:14). Be not swayed by what nearly every other professor is doing—look well to your own bearings.
"Continue," do not depart from "acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness" (Titus 1:1). If others are determined to make shipwreck of the faith, see to it that you "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." But remember that faithfulness will cost you something. In a "perilous" time, you may—probably will—have to walk alone, as Enoch did. If you resolve that by Divine grace you will "live godly in Christ Jesus," then know you that "persecution" must be your portion. And that persecution will come upon you not from atheists and infidels—but from those bearing the name of Christians. It will issue from those who still keep up a "form (or semblance) of godliness," but who are strangers to its living power. It will come to you from empty professors whose compromising ways are condemned by your refusal to conform thereto; whose worldliness and carnality is rebuked by your spirituality. It was the religious leaders of Israel who hounded the Savior to His death!
Thus, it is by their godly living, the true are distinguished from the false, and by the opposition which they meet with from the latter, that they may be clearly identified. Their care to avoid what they call "singularity" and "puritanism"—and thus, to escape "persecution"—is what exposes the empty professor! The true people of God—then, are clearly distinguished from empty professors. The characteristic marks of the former, being: Their determination to live, at all costs, a godly life; and, in consequence, their suffering persecution in various forms—not only from open infidels—but particularly, from unregenerate church-members. The latter have something of "the form of godliness," but are strangers to its power or vital influence.
Genuine "godliness" is consistent, all of one piece, evidencing itself in every situation and circumstance. Those with merely the "form" are "religious" only at certain times, and in certain relations.
Genuine godliness one is a new nature within—manifesting itself without; the mere form of godliness is nothing but an external cloak, seeking to hide the old man. Genuine godliness issues from filial fear and spiritual love; the mere form of godliness issues from servile fear and selfish love. Genuine godliness is vitalized by the Holy Spirit; the mere form of godliness is regulated by selfish considerations, or is stimulated by emotion. Genuine godliness is lasting; the mere form of godliness is only evanescent.