The diversity of God’s children
Carl Olof Rosenius (1816-1868) was a Swedish revival preacher and editor of the devotional journal Pietisten (“The Pietist”). This reflection appeared in 1859 with the title “Om likheten och olikheten Guds barn emellan.” Excerpted from The Swedish Pietists: A Reader pp. 113-116. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
We repeat once again, that the differences among God’s children, which we have just been considering, come from God and are not at all something bad, but instead quite the opposite, something rich and beautiful. Indeed, this diversity and nuance is so characteristic of the work of God. If in a congregation all of the limbs were so similar to one another, that if one had seen or heard one of them, one might as well have seen or heard all of them, then this is not a good sign. For in a true work of God, the unity of the Spirit will manifest itself in a diversity of gifts, and each and every limb will work with a particular gift. Otherwise, it will be like a uniform human creation. It is so far from the case that we should need to be troubled by all of the differences among the children of God. And when we consider how God’s providence allows the one person to be born and raised in one country, city, or race, and the other person someplace else, provides the one with certain spiritual teachers and writings, and the other with different ones, all the while directing each and every person through different experiences and sufferings and blessings, it follows that all of these circumstances produce even more differences among the children of God. These differences do not indicate anything bad, but first and foremost come from God, and do not need to arouse suspicion, contempt, or criticism. They should be observed, as has been said, with reverence for God, who is the source of a diversity of grace.
But these differences between the children of God, which we have observed so far, are probably not the most difficult to understand and correctly observe. It is more difficult when we encounter differences in prevailing opinions and lifestyles, in which we regard ourselves as having received the clear word of God. But even these kinds of differences do not always discount the veracity of a person’s faithfulness or their life of grace. The differences in question here could possibly either be dependent on spiritual maturity or on the progress of the work of grace. Or they could also depend on different interpretations of God’s word, such as those passages which could be understood in two ways, with equally faithful research in each case. Or they could arise from the recently mentioned external circumstances, into which one has been born or raised. Or, finally, from different predispositions and tendencies in the person’s nature. And this is not to mention the fact that also the devil can influence us in various ways, without snuffing out the life of grace. For example, you think that I have too strict of a spirit, preach too much law and admonitions, while I, on the other hand, think that you preach these things too little. Now, both of these things could be true. Both you and I could be found to be exaggerating, which would not be good, and could either be the result of some human error or, pure and simple, the work of the enemy. But also our opinion and assessment of one another could be incorrect, and the difference in our preaching might derive from our different calling, such as one might consider the differences between a John and a James. As another example, your conscience might be troubled by various things, which I can do with complete peace in my conscience and with thankfulness to God. Can even such differences take place among the children of God? […]
But when we speak of the differences which arise from different insights and perspectives on God’s word, we must remember in particular that this can be the product of different spiritual ages and stages of grace. It is altogether impossible that a person in every stage of life would be able to fully comprehend any given point of doctrine, in terms of sincerely holding it as true and taking ownership of it. No, a person must live into [lefwa sig in i] these divine truths. When it is a matter of simply imprinting them in the head, then one can learn all of the articles of faith at once; but if one becomes awakened and begins to investigate the matter in full, then the systems of doctrine are overturned, then one becomes like a child, ignorant, and must begin again with the basic alphabet. Then one learns, in a new way, one step at a time, as life and experiences move us forward. […]
Other differences between the children of God arise purely and simply from different natures, for grace does not completely overturn these differences in nature, but instead gives them a new, holy direction, as well as discipline and moderation. The same strong and lively nature, which contributed to making Paul, prior to his conversion, into a very fierce persecutor, also later contributed to making him into a very effective and energetic apostle. […] It was without a doubt simply a difference of nature, which caused the beloved disciple John to remain in the boat when Jesus stood on the beach, while Peter immediately cast himself into the water so that he could come to his Lord as quickly as possible (Jn 21). But if Peter was intense in love, he was also intense in other changes of emotions, such that he lost control of himself more often than the faithful John did. […]
With everything that we have seen regarding the differences that can arise between the children of God, it is usually the case that there is one difference that is particularly confusing, which is why we will conclude with a few comments about this. It is this difference which seems to most closely address the spirit and life, namely that there can either be an emphasis on the law or a more evangelical emphasis. The easiest way around this difference is to simply hold up the one emphasis as the true one, and completely reject the other standpoint. […] Let us not be so hasty in dismissing such an important question. […]
Now since we have a tendency to either lean to one side or the other, then is quite healthy for us to keep company with brothers who have the opposite opinion from us. It is healthy to listen to both Paul and James, though it can cause us to be conflicted within ourselves. Besides, it is the duty and wisdom of every Christian, as far as it is possible, to seek to unify and keep together this band of siblings, which is so often tempted to break apart. […] Surely these people are our siblings in grace, even if they have different tastes than we do in many cases. But if they are a self-satisfied group of people, who only have use of Christ for their own sanctification, then this is another matter—then they are not siblings in grace, but instead enemies of the gospel, and then it would not help matters to be unified with them. But it is always highly necessary to seek to understand and love even these brothers we find peculiar, partially since we are so inclined to judge everything according to our own heads and our own tastes, and partially because we still stand to gain from our contact with one another, even if we remain separate. We also know how frequently the apostles admonished the Christians to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace. […]
However different God’s children are on earth, they are yet one in this greatest and most marvelous relationship of all: they are “one body and one Spirit, as you were called to one hope, when you were called: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–5). Let us with this great unity in mind look past all of our differences and, as siblings for eternity, support one another during our mutual struggles on this journey to our common homeland and our Father’s house in heaven! Amen.