Lewis: On Bandwagons & Integrity

C. S. Lewis 11In Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis takes aim at people who jump on bandwagons for their own personal benefit. In a chapter he titled “Connivance,” he writes of those in ancient Judea “who fleeced their fellow-countrymen to get money for the occupying power in return for a fat percentage” of the take.

He was, frankly, astounded by the attitude he witnessed in one young man who had studied at Oxford. The man had been an avowed socialist during his student days: “Everything ought to be run by the State; private enterprise and independent professions were for him the great evil.”

A decade after graduating, he returned to speak with Lewis, who was surprised by the change in the man’s philosophy:

He said his political views had been wholly reversed. You never heard a fuller recantation. He now saw that State interference was fatal. What had converted him was his experience as a schoolmaster of the Ministry of Education—a set of ignorant meddlers armed with insufferable powers to pester, hamper and interrupt the work of real, practical teachers who knew the subjects they taught, who knew boys, parents, and all the real conditions of their work.

So what did this conversion yield? Did the young man, who had now seen the error of his ways and had witnessed the corruption of the system up close, firsthand, seek a way to change the system or to work outside of it? Wouldn’t that have been a natural response? Instead, Lewis recounts,

The real point . . . of his visit, when it came, nearly took my breath away. Thinking thus, he had come to see whether I had any influence which might help him to get a job in the Ministry of Education.

Rather than stand tall on his presumed principles and do something about this vile system, he sought instead to find a way into it. Lewis concludes,

Here is the perfect band-wagoner. Immediately on the decision “This is a revolting tyranny,” follows the question “How can I as quickly as possible cease to be one of the victims and become one of the tyrants?” . . . This is an instance of band-wagoning so crude and unabashed as to be farcical.

Motive of the HeartWhat’s the lesson here? Could it be that we need to examine our own lives and see if there be any ways—more subtle than this man’s—where we compromise our principles and seek to ingratiate ourselves into a system or way of life we say we deplore? Are we being consistent with our profession of faith and with what we tell others we believe?

If so, our next step should be to abandon any such bandwagon and regain our integrity.

Finney: The Intent of the Heart

Of what does true virtue consist? What determines a person’s moral character? Charles Finney deals with that in his Systematic Theology. His language is not modern, so some of this may be hard to follow for some people, but I would urge you to think this through carefully. Here’s what he says:

Finney's Systematic TheologyIt has been shown that moral character consists in the supreme ultimate intention of the mind, and that this supreme, disinterested benevolence, good willing or intention, is the whole of virtue.

Now this intention originates volitions [i.e., the power to make one’s own choices or decisions]. It directs the attention of the mind, and therefore, produces thoughts, emotions, or affections. It also, through volition, produces bodily action. But moral character does not lie in outward actions. . . . Moral character belongs solely to the intention that produced the volition that moved the muscles to the performance of the outward act. . . .

Moral character no more lies in emotion, than in outward action. It does not lie in thought, or attention. It does not lie in the specific volition that directed the attention; but in that intention, or design of the mind, that produced the volition, which directed the attention, which, again, produced the thought, which, again, produced the emotion.

So it all comes down to the intent of the heart, the motive for why we do the things we do. There are only two ultimate intentions: to serve God or to serve self. That’s why Jesus condemned the Pharisees who, although they were doing outwardly good things, were doing so with a wrong motive: for their own vanity.

Once we get the intention/motive right, then God is pleased with the outward action.

Finney: The Ultimate Intention of Our Choices

I’ve often heard people say—and ministers of the Gospel teach—that the motives for our actions can be mixed; that is to say, when we choose to do something, we might do so both for God and for us simultaneously. In other words, our actions are partly holy in intention and partly selfish. Charles Finney disagreed with this formulation. In his Systematic Theology, he explained why:

Finney's Systematic TheologyWhenever a moral being prefers or chooses his own gratification, or his own interest, in preference to a higher good, because it is his own, he chooses it as an end, for its own sake, and as an ultimate end, not designing it as a means of promoting any other and higher end, nor because it is a part of universal good.

Every sin, then, consists in an act of will. It consists in preferring self-gratification, or self-interest, to the authority of God, the glory of God, and the good of the universe. It is, therefore, and must be, a supreme choice, or intention.

Sin and holiness, then, both consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices, or intentions, and cannot by any possibility, coexist. . . .

Now, whatever complexity there may have been in the considerations that led the way to this choice or intention, it is self-evident that the intention must be one, simple, and indivisible. . . .

Holiness, then, must always consist in singleness of eye or intention.

Examine MotivesI think we sometimes fool ourselves into believing we have done something “good enough” because at least “part” of our motive was for God’s glory, when, in fact, we can never have a truly mixed motive. As Finney said, we confuse the concept of mixed motive with all the considerations that ran through our mind before making our decision. But when that decision is made, it is either for God or for ourselves.

There’s nothing wrong with a regular examination of our motives. It is a requirement for the Christian life.

Finney: The Clear Communication of the Gospel

Charles Finney 4A good many ministers in Charles Finney’s day didn’t like the way he preached. He hadn’t gone to one of the seminaries of the time; instead, he came directly out of the practice of law into his evangelistic ministry. They despised his lack of “polish” in the pulpit, in the sense that he didn’t fill his sermons with examples from classical history or use language suited more to the well-educated congregations. He had this penchant for talking to the common man and making sure that man understood the message of the Gospel.

Finney listened to their criticisms, but found no good reason to change his style. He shares this story in his autobiography that touches on the issue:

Many years ago a beloved pastor of my acquaintance, left home for his health, and employed a young man, just from the seminary, to fill his pulpit while he was absent. This young man wrote and preached as splendid sermons as he could. The pastor’s wife finally ventured to say to him, “You are preaching over the heads of our people. They do no understand your language or your illustrations. You bring too much of your learning into the pulpit.”

He replied, “I am a young man. I am cultivating a style. I am aiming to prepare myself for occupying a pulpit and surrounding myself with a cultivated congregation. I cannot descend to your people. I must cultivate an elevated style.”

I have had my thought and eye upon this man ever since. I am not aware that he is yet dead; but I have never seen his name connected with any revival, amidst all the great revivals that we have had, from year to year, since that time; and I never expect to, unless his views are radically changed, and unless he addresses the people from an entirely different stand-point, and from entirely different motives.

How many ministers are in the ministry for the wrong reasons? How many just want to impress with their intellect? How many talk above the heads of the people who need to hear the message that will lead them out of sin and into life? As Finney says, the motives need to be entirely different. I have no problem with a learned ministry, but if one has really “learned” what God wants one to learn, the Gospel will be communicated clearly and with conviction. God will work with that to bring results.

Finney: Discerning the Intent of the Heart

Our outward actions are extremely important, but when the Lord looks at those actions, He goes deeper and sees the intent of the heart. Sometimes, the outward actions of two individuals may be exactly the same, but the intent of the heart completely different. One may be honoring God by his actions while someone else doing the very same thing may be sinning. Here’s how Charles Finney explains it further:

A student labors to get wages, to purchase books, to obtain an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls, and to please God. Another labors to get wages, to purchase books, to get an education, to preach the gospel, to secure a salary, and his own ease and popularity. In the first supposition he loves God and souls, and seeks, as his ultimate end, the happiness of souls, and the glory and gratification of God. In the last case supposed, he loves himself supremely and his ultimate end is his own gratification.

Motive of the HeartNow the . . . immediate objects of pursuit, in these two cases, are precisely alike, while their ultimate ends are entirely opposite. Their first, or nearest, end is to get wages. Their next end is to obtain books; and so we follow them, until we ascertain their ultimate end, before we learn the moral character of what they doing.

The means they are using . . . are the same, but the ultimate ends at which they aim are entirely different, and every moral agent, from a necessary law of his intellect, must, as soon as he understands the ultimate end of each, pronounce the one virtuous, and the other sinful, in his pursuits. One is selfish and the other benevolent.

Finney then later remarks [and these quotes come from his Systematic Theology],

It is undeniable that the vilest sinners do many things outwardly which the law of God requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts, they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful notwithstanding their conformity to the letter of the law of God.

How often I’ve heard someone being praised for some outward action without taking into account the intention of the heart, also known as one’s motive. This is a clear reminder that God will judge the heart, and that, as His people, we need to do our best to make a sober and discerning judgment of intent/motive as well.

Finney: God Looks at the Heart

God always goes beyond our actions to see what’s in our hearts. The intent of the heart is a key to God’s judgment of our actions. Charles Finney has an excellent commentary on that in his Systematic Theology:

It is a saying as common as men are, and as true as common, that men are to be judged by their motives, that is, by their designs, intentions. It is impossible for us not to assent to this truth. If a man intend evil, though, perchance, he may do us good, we do not excuse him, but hold him guilty of the crime which he intended

So if he intend to do us good, and, perchance, do us evil, we do not, and cannot condemn him. For this intention and endeavor to do us good, we cannot blame him, although it has resulted in evil to us.

He may be to blame for other things connected with the affair. He may have come to our help too late, and have been to blame for not coming when a different result would have followed; or he may have been blamable for not being better qualified for doing us good. He may have been to blame for many things connected with the transaction, but for a sincere, and of course hearty endeavor to do us good, he is not culpable, nor can he be, however it may result.

If he honestly intended to do us good, it is impossible that he should not have used the best means in his power, at the time. This is implied in honesty of intention. And if he did this, reason cannot pronounce him guilty, for it must judge him by his intentions.

Examine MotivesWhen Jesus chastised the Pharisees, He didn’t criticize their outward actions—praying, fasting, tithing, etc.—but He did point to their motives for doing all those outwardly good deeds. He’s far more interested in our hearts than our actions, although, of course, actions will have consequences. And there’s no way to hide our hearts from Him. I’m reminded of this passage from the book of Hebrews, chapter 4:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

We need to look to our hearts and get our motives straight. Our actions should be the result of love for God, not personal gain for self. He sees the difference and judges accordingly.