Sermon Preached Sunday Afternoon, July 23, 1939, Covenant Beach, Washington
Taken in Shorthand and Transcribed by Carolyn Johnson, Yakima, Washington
“They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Christian teachers throughout the centuries have recognized this as the classic text which portrays the beautiful Christianity. I need not tell you there is such a thing as beautiful Christianity. It is the Christianity that has, through the years, actually propagated itself and has had the power to carry the burdens of life. And whenever Christianity has ceased to become beautiful, it has always had a hard time.
I don’t know of any age when so much Christian programming goes over the air and so forth. But we are not getting where we want to get, are we? I think one reason is that we are not the beautiful Christians we ought to be. For somehow people keep visiting beautiful places, don’t they? May we not be like Saul who “wist not that the spirit had departed from him.”
You may not agree with me that there is such a thing as an unattractive and ugly Christianity, but I think there is. I wouldn’t dare to say that it isn’t Christianity, for who am I to judge, but I know it isn’t beautiful Christianity. When I see a Christian whose period of immaturity is prolonged, I know that isn’t beautiful. “For, when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”
A Christian should grow up. And yet, we have a lot of Christians with gray hair who have the minds of children when it comes to dealing with the problems of life. It isn’t beautiful.
I was dealing with a certain individual in a certain church who wanted his spiritual life renewed. And, among other problems I found was the problem of a lack of fellowship with other members of the church—particularly with one individual. And I said to this friend, “You will have to ask that man to forgive you.” He said, “I will, if you will go with me.” So, we went together. My friend asked to be forgiven, but the old saint shook his head and said, “I won’t forgive you.” Ugly Christianity! I wouldn’t say that he won’t go to heaven— God is a wonderfully merciful God—but he wasn’t a beautiful Christian.
We lose power when we lose beauty, and I have seen a Christianity that I would almost call fanatical Christianity, which is unattractive and ugly. I wouldn’t say it isn’t Christianity, but it isn’t beautiful.
I walked the streets of Tacoma one night as a soldier in the U.S. Army the only weekend before the Tacoma people discovered the soldier-boys. I was lonesome and homesick. I came by a door behind which I heard the singing of hymns. I walked in—not in a critical spirit , but in a friendly spirit. I sat down and enjoyed the message. Then the after-meeting began and people went forward. And, I saw a sight the like of which my eyes had never rested upon—men and women rolling promiscuously with each other around the floor.
I sat alone in the back of the church and a man came to me and said in a harsh voice, “Don’t you want to be a Christian?” And I said, “How do you know I am not a Christian?” He said, “I can smell it.” He said, “You need to get up with the rest of us.” I said, “I can’t. I don’t like the looks of that scene.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Can you imagine the Lord Jesus Christ rolling around with those people up there?” He said, “I never thought of it,” and I said, “It is time you think it over.”
I am not taking a crack at Pentecostalism. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t run down people of God—but that kind of a show wasn’t beautiful. It was full of a lot of carnality and the flesh. Fanatical Christianity!
Then I have seen an indifferent Christianity that is unattractive —those who bear the name of Christian and don’t care whether school keeps or not, whether the prayer meetings live on, or whether the testimony meetings live on, or whether the church of Christ lives on. They are like so much dead weight that you have to lift. It is unattractive. It isn’t beautiful. But, let us get away from ugly Christianity and talk about beautiful Christianity.
I see from my text that these men had one characteristic in Common—they were alive to Jesus. Attractive people are people who are alive. Even rather homely-looking people, if there is a liveliness about them, it changes the homeliness into beauty. The fountain of power and the fountain of life in the church resides in the Lord Jesus Christ and if we are not alive to Him, we can’t get beauty—we can’t get power. Are you alive to Jesus? Have you talked to Him today?
Do you have Him in your soul? Do you talk to Him? Do you live with Him? If you do, then the beauty which is in Jesus Christ cannot help but steal into your heart, into your life, and into your human contacts.
I recall an interesting experience with Professor C. J. Wilson. He taught almost every subject there was to teach at North Park College, but he loved geology. The summer I was a student pastor at Berkley, California, I noticed his itinerary included Berkley, and I decided I wanted to be nice to him, so, not having an automobile, I went down to the “rent-a-car” place and rented an automobile for the day. That hurt, but I did it anyway.
First after I met him, I took him to Skyline Boulevard along Oakland. I soon discovered I didn’t have any brakes. We were going down a hill—we went faster and faster. I said to Professor Wilson, “We haven’t any brakes.” He wasn’t interested in that; he was looking at the rock formations, but Mrs. Wilson got very restless in the back seat and I had quite a time. Pretty soon Mr. Wilson cried out, “Stop!” and I said, “I can’t stop.” And then, I started to manipulate the reverse (as we used to do in those obliging old Fords) and I managed to ge it pretty slow and stopped.
Mr. Wilson jumped out of the car and ran back to his rocks. He came back with his hands full of rocks and said, “Look at Them—wonderful rocks!” If you knew the history of those rocks, they were undoubtedly wonderful, but the thing that appealed to me was his aliveness to his rocks. I said to myself, “Oh, Christ, help me to be so alive to Thee as my dear teacher was to his rocks.”
Are you alive to Jesus today? If you are, the work of beauty is going on in your soul. If you aren’t, I would say, “Tum your eyes upon Jesus this afternoon.”
There is something else in my text that is very attractive. These people were real. They perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men and they didn’t try to cover it up. I like that. There is nothing that is beautiful that isn’t real. That is one law of beauty—reality . An old shoe might be beautiful, but it has to be a real shoe. Most anything is beautiful in its own way, if it is real. The trouble with so many of us Christians is that we put on airs because we don’t think we are good enough. And so, we become unlovely and unattractive. You always have to watch yourself so that you don’t put on airs.
I remember one of the first sermons I preached. I had, unfortunately, for that time at least, several preachers in the audience. I was afraid of them and I put on airs that morning. And one preacher came to me and said, “Thank you for a good sermon, but you wouldn’t have to have pretended half as much as you did.”
There has been too much pretense in the Christian Church— for we are all happy all the time. You know that isn’t true. Why say it when you aren’t? I have gotten so that I almost despise testimonies in the modem church because we are all happy—and afterwards we find out how we are when we talk to each other privately. We must not pretend, because when we pretend, we become unattractive.
I had made assignments in a class in school for several days and nobody paid any attention. That was not unusual. Finally, I lost my temper and I said, “This is the last assignment and if you don ‘t learn the lesson, I will flunk you all.” One of the students later said to me, “I’m awfully sorry you said that, professor. I have thought so much of you and I have felt so badly for you that I got down on my knees and prayed for you.” I hope I am not beyond the place where I can learn from my students.
That summer I was at a young people’s conference and this same man came with a group from a little church he was serving. He attended two services, heard the rules of the conference stated, and broke the rules. At 11 pm that night, his uke and his guitar were going and his group singing— sometimes jazz, sometime s spiritual choruses. The camp leader said, “Won’t you go talk to him?” and I said, “That’s your job.” He said he had, so I went. I went over and I took him for a walk and talked with him. And I said to him, among other things, “Did you really pray for me that time?” He said, “No.” He was pretending.
I’ll tell you people there has been a lot of pretending in the Christian Church. All the actors are not in Hollywood. Some of them are in the Christian Church. God forgive us! You don’t have to be remarkable to be a beautiful Christian. You have to be real - that is all.
There is something else, and then I am through. They were true to the purpose of Jesus Christ. They were alive, they were real, and they were true to the purpose and intention of Jesus Christ. They were out witnessing for Christ even though they were unlearned and ignorant men. They didn’t put on airs, but they were out winning souls for Christ.
We have to be working if we are to be attractive. We can’t be lazy. An old deacon in the English church was at a young people’s conference many years ago when he took a young man who had had a rather prominent part in the service at that conference aside and asked him to go for a walk with him. The young man agreed and the deacon said, “I wonder if God hasn’t called you into definite Christian work. I think you should be a minister.” The young man said, “I have to think it over, but I will give you my answer in a week.”
A week later, the young man called at the deacon’s home and he said, “I have decided to give my life to full-time service in the church of Jesus Christ.” The deacon was moved to tears. The young man said, “I thought it would make you happy to hear that I have decided for full-time service for the Lord.” He said, “I am, but I am weeping because I am so happy, because you are the 50th person God has let me lead into definite Christian service.” That was beautiful.
I don’t know of anyone who has ever talked to me about Jesus who hasn’t had some beauty in his face or her face. Oh, do we talk to people about the Lord? Alive—real—true. A–R —T—the art of Christianity.
Oh, God, make us beautiful Christians and Christianity will have power.