“Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things?” by Louis A. Dole

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“Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?
“And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me:
“The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? – Luke 20:2-5

Readings

Isaiah 40:1-11 · Luke 20:1-18 · Psalm 37:1-22

Sermon

It is well known that to acquire an understanding of any art, science, or profession requires much labor and study. No one would expect to become a mathematician, a doctor, or a teacher without years of study and discipline. Yet many feel that religion should require no effort or study.

When the Lord was teaching in the temple, the priests and scribes came to Him and asked, “By what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?” This is a very searching question and points to the source and origin of all religion. The Lord “answered and said unto them… The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?”

The Lord did nothing by chance. His every word and deed had purpose and wisdom back of it. He was not merely trying to silence the priests and scribes. An answer to the second question was necessary to the answering of the first.

These two questions – the one on the part of man, the other on the part of the Lord – are questions not of local and temporary import, but questions which are asked in every age, and at this day as much as in the Lord’s time. Today the Christian churches are drifting more and more into the belief that the Word is the work of men and that Christ is other than God. But the Word is not local or temporary in its application. It is equal in extent and in duration to the Divine mind, and is addressed to every period. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”

The authority of the Word is questioned today, and sometimes people think that from themselves they have the capacity to understand and to pass judgment on this question. But our text tells us that there may be evidence which they are incapable of understanding, and that there is a question which they must answer first, which will test their ability to understand and believe the answer to their own.

“The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” Before we can progress toward heavenly intelligence this question must be answered. We must not begin at the end of a book or in the middle of it, but at the beginning, if we are to understand it. Our answer to the Lord’s question will show whether we are asking our own question as a mere matter of intellectual interest or from the desire to know and apply the answer. If the question is not asked from heavenly affections, all our labor to understand will be fruitless and unprofitable.

John came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. To learn the doctrine of repentance, and to know whether it be of heaven or not is again not merely an intellectual exercise. We must ourselves repent. We cannot know it as a mere theory; it must be learned by experience. To understand what repentance is we must look into our own minds and see if there is any inclination toward wrong in thought or affection. Then as we discover a shortcoming, the next step is to refrain from that evil because it is a sin against God. As we do this, looking to the Lord for strength, we shall progress in knowledge and wisdom, until we become convinced that of ourselves we have neither intelligence, wisdom, nor goodness, and that all the truth we think and all the good we do is from the Lord alone, having no other origin.

When we see and acknowledge this, true humility and dependence upon the Lord will follow for, trusting now no longer in ourselves or in our own unassisted efforts, we shall constantly look to the Lord for strength, direction, and security; we shall no longer have any doubt that the baptism of John is really from heaven, that is, that all good and truth are from the Lord and could never have originated with man himself. When we cease to look to self, and look to the Lord, a new kind of evidence breaks upon our minds, so that we see as truth things which we before acknowledged only might be so. And as we truly repent and shun evils as sins, the Divine love becomes more manifest, even until our minds can be satisfied.

And let us know that this is not the result of some great emotion, but is the result of right conduct in our daily tasks and occupations. It is a simple matter of duty. We have our work in this world, each the duties of his calling, only evils must be shunned in thought, will, and act. And when we refrain from doing wrong or thinking it from this motive – because the Lord has forbidden it – there is then the beginning of spiritual life and also the first dawning of that internal evidence by which the doctrines of the Word of God are seen to be from heaven, and in particular the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ is God Himself, our only true and final authority.

To many – especially to young people – self-examination, repentance, and correction of our evils seem unpleasant things to do. They seem to require that we give up so many things we are accustomed to do. But it would not seem so if we realized what is really at stake.

We try to take care of our bodies, to correct any defects and blemishes in them, and to make them as serviceable to us as possible. The literature of today is full of articles on the care of the body. But what many are unconscious of is that we have a spiritual body which is more real and substantial than our material body and which must last us to eternity. This spiritual body, or the soul, is acted upon and formed by spiritual forces. As we learn and keep the Divine laws, our souls are perfected. Wrong thoughts and feelings mar and deform them. Our souls are our real selves. A beautiful body in the spiritual world is the result of true affections and thoughts. As the beauty and strength of the natural body is the result of keeping the laws governing it, so the beauty, strength, and happiness of the soul is the result of knowing and keeping the laws of the spirit.

The first of these laws is that we acknowledge the Lord as supreme. Then only can we put our trust in Him. Then only can He teach us and lead us in the paths of wisdom and peace.

Do we wish to know who the Lord is? Another question must first be settled in our minds: “The baptism of John, is it from heaven, or of men?” If we shun evils as sins, we can know the answer to this question, for then we prepare the way of the Lord. For in the measure in which we desist from evils both externally and in our thoughts and wills, in this measure the Lord can enter in and form our souls in His image and likeness.

This is a question which now agitates the whole Christian world, and involves within it no less than the decision as to whether there is any authority above our own finite intelligence. This truth cannot be arrived at by any intellectual reasoning or dispute. It can be known only by the elementary process of learning the commandments and keeping them.

As there is no royal road to knowledge, so there is no royal road to religion. We must cease to do evil before we can learn to do well. Through humility and repentance we must come to learn that the baptism of John is from heaven and not of men, that there is no power in ourselves to find the way of life. Then we shall be prepared to recognize the Lord and to see that His works and words come to us with the authority of God Himself.

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

Amen

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