In the year 1900 a devotional was published called The D. L. Moody Year Book: A Living Daily Message from the Words of D. L. Moody. The readings contained within it were selected by Emma Moody Fitt. Last week I read one of the entries and it bothered me. No, thats not true. It did much more than bother me, it angered me. Before I tell you why, I’ve re-written the whole reading for that day below:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing —Genesis 12:2 (ESV).
There is no name in history so well known as the name of Abram. Even Christ is not more widely known, for the Mohammedans, the Persians, and the Egyptians make a great deal of Abram. His name has been for centuries and centuries favorably known in Damascus. God promised him that great men should spring from his loins. Was there ever a nation that has turned out such men? Think of Moses, and Joseph, and Joshua, and Caleb, and Samuel, and David, and Solomon, and Elisha. Think of Elijah, and Daniel, and Isaiah, and all the other wonderful Bible characters that have sprung from this man! Then think of John the Baptist, of Peter, of James, and John, and Paul, a mighty army. No one can number the multitude of wonderful men that have sprung from this one man called out of the land of the Chaldeans, unknown and an idolater, probably, when God called him; and yet how literally God has fulfilled his promise that through him he would bless all the nations of the earth. All because he surrendered himself fully and wholly to let God bless him.
Did you see it? I wonder if you can spot the grave error. Everything began great. Abram truly is a famous name, he’s a famous man, and always will be. God has used him in mighty ways. He blessed him and created a nation through him, and through that blessing all the families on the earth are blessed. Moody is right to say that all the other famous Bible characters we know of came from this one man. That is astounding. Abram surely deserves our attention.
But then Moody wrote the last sentence, and ruined my day.
The last sentence goes directly against the very nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. After explaining Abram’s greatness Moody then shows where that greatness came from saying, “All because he surrendered himself fully and wholly to let God bless him.” You’ve got to be kidding me!
If you think this is no big deal, and you’re a Christian you need to be more upset about this. Let me explain my frustration. Moody just spent an entire paragraph writing about the unique blessing and gift Abram was to the world as a whole, and in that last sentence he provided the foundation of that gift. Or to say it another way, in that last sentence Moody gives us the reason why Abram was such a blessing to the world. What’s the reason? Moody says it’s because Abram “fully and wholly let God bless him.”
Wrong. Abram is not the reason Abram is such a blessing. God is the reason Abram was such a blessing to the nations. Abram did not ‘allow’ himself to be used of God. Abram did not ‘do the right things’ in order to ‘let God use him.’ No, the blessing and covenant of Abram had nothing to do with the man Abram, it has everything to do with God. After all, when God made the great covenant with him, he was asleep (see Genesis 15).
This angers me so much because it’s man-centered teaching like this that has dug deep into the heart of the modern Church. To say that we ‘allow’ or ‘let’ God do anything is simply ridiculous. It presents a picture that God is in a box and we can let Him out of that box when we’re ready to or when we want to. It presents a picture that what is really great about the work of God in the soul of man is ‘man’ who allows God to work in him. From beginning to end, the Bible presents a different story, the opposite story.
Rather than being about the glory of the man who ‘allows’ God to work, the Bible presents to us a God who works in the soul of man, not because of the willingness or readiness or righteousness of that man, but despite the sin of rebellious nature of that man. It’s God’s grace through His Son by His Spirit that changes men and makes them willing to obey God in the first place, and it’s God’s grace that is foundational reason behind all that obedience in man. You may think I’m overreacting here but Moody’s statement seems to imply that man is the one who receives the glory here, simply because he ‘fully and wholly’ let God use him. The is wrong.
D.L. Moody has a great reputation, and wrote some great stuff. When we come across things like this in the writing or preaching of former saints, we remember that even the most famous of men are prone to error. When it comes to man-centered nonsense like this, Moody should’ve known better, and we should too.