When God created us He set us in the very midst of all the works of His hands and bade us to serve Him withal. We stand today too in the midst of creation. Turn which way we will, we always have to assume an attitude toward the things of God’s hands.
That attitude admits of two extremes.
The one attitude is that of non-using of creation. Men consider it sin to use creation. Men practice world-flight. With the monks of yore and the Anabaptists of today they see creation as belonging to the lower and baser order of things and therefore to be avoided. These cry “touch not, taste not, handle not.” They forbid themselves and others the use of creation, and they think they are better because of their non-use. Sanctification consists in shunning creation. Sometimes their slogan would tempt you to think that these folk are strong for antithesis, but upon closer inspection one finds that that is not true. This attitude of non-use is certainly wrong. Every creature of God is good. Creation as such is not evil. Earth, money, possessions, etc., are not per se evil. God’s works are not of a baser sort so that we did better by not touching them. It is not scriptural to say that we ought not to use creation. God surely did not set us in the midst of His works in order that we should refrain from touching them. God did not surround us with His gifts in order that we should declare them sinful and dangerous. God set us in the midst of this creation in order to use it.
So we must not imagine that non-use is the will of God or that it is pleasing to Him.
That is one of the extremes. An extreme that comes up out of the depraved heart of a fallen sinner who stands wrong before God and consequently wrong before all things.
The other extreme is that of abusing creation. These people make very liberal use of creation. They lay hands on as much of it as they possibly can. They labor to amass riches, they wrestle for possessions, adding acre to acre, they fill their houses with luxuries.
But what do they?
They abuse creation.
While others proclaim creation evil, these make creation their god. Such as are nominally Christian among them contend that they are enjoying the N. T. freedom of grace and therefore are free to use it liberally and free to use it as they please. No creature of God is evil, say they, and no one must tell them “touch not, taste not, handle not.” They are free. And their mistake? Their mistake is that there is nowhere in Scripture given us such freedom. We have indeed a N.T. freedom, but freedom is not the same as licentiousness. Our freedom is not a sort of license to give the flesh free rein. Our freedom is never that man becomes some kind of sovereign so that he is free to do quite as he pleases with God’s creation. After all we are but stewards, and One greater than we will account to us. We are not sovereign, we are after all but creatures. The more blatant and liberal among them become sheer materialists. They make enjoyment of creation to be the highest good. In passing they quote Solomon: “there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor.” They become Freudians, Libertines. Creation becomes their god, full enjoyment of it becomes their highest good, and any law which would prevent them in their pursuit of “happiness” is an intolerable remnant of an outmoded doctrine.
They abuse creation.
For creation and the use of it is never and may never be an end in itself. For then men worship the creature rather than the Creator.
There the two extremes.
Midway between them is a narrow strip of ground upon which we must stand. And we can stand there only on the principle which Paul expresses in I Cor. 7:31.
“Using as not abusing.”
Using it, indeed. But not in such a way that we abuse it, or, as the original indicates, using it ill. Positively stated it means using it unto the purpose for which God has given it us.
This principle gives us the freedom to use. But that freedom must never be misinterpreted. Freedom does not mean that we do as we please or even as we see fit. Freedom means that we have been delivered out of the bondage and the vanity of sin and have become the servants of the Lord, through the blood of His Son. Freedom means that we have the privilege and the power to serve God. Freedom means that we are become covenant friend-servants of the Lord and that we, meanwhile, find it our highest delight to serve that one Lord. The highest freedom the creature knows is the freedom to be able to will the will of the Lord and delight in willing it. With that freedom in our hearts we may use creation.
Using it as not abusing then implies three things:
First, it implies that we are stewards. The things are not ours. The earth and the fullness of it belongs to the Lord, and never for a moment even does He waive His ownership of it. God does not donate it to us or sell it to us, God gives it to us for the time being to use it. But it remains His, always His. We are therefore only stewards who handle it for a while. And being stewards it is evident that we shall have to give an account of every penny that has passed through our fingers. The more we own or have owned, the greater will be the responsibility before God. So to use it so that we constantly give account of it before God, mindful that it is God’s. . . . that is using as not abusing.
Secondly, that means that we must use it to the welfare of the brother (neighbor). Scripture very frequently condemns the rich. Often the rich are such as have amassed abundance of this world’s goods. But a man who has much of this world’s goods is not per se the proverbially rich man. The rich man may also be he who has very limited means. He might have scarcely more than a penny. He becomes rich not only because of his possessions, but he becomes the rich man (rich fool, if you please) when he assumes a selfish attitude toward it. God’s law says, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” That is his freedom, also when he has possessions. If, e.g. he sets his heel upon the throats of his servants, if he shuts his bowels of mercy against the brother, when he withholds from his family the necessary things, when he refuses to give liberally, (or at all) to the church and the kingdom in general. . . . and then all that while amasses possessions, HE IS RICH. He uses, but abuses. Nay, but the principle of using as not abusing implies that we shall do the neighbor no harm but that we shall do him well, and promote the welfare of neighbor, family, church, and kingdom. In other words: “Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and its RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Doing that we shall be able to use as not abusing.
Finally it means that withal we shall use creation to promote the glory of God. This forbids world-conformity. The world has a scheme, a method of laying hold on God’s creation and forcing it into the service of its own lusts and pleasures. As the world does e.g. with printing press, radio, photography, etc. It is the world’s scheme of using God’s creation in the interest of its own lusts. We may not be conformed but we must be transformed. I may not say to God’s people, you may not have an automobile, a bank-account furniture, or a radio, etc. But I may and shall say to God’s people that we may not use them as the world uses them, but we must use them to the honor and the glory of God. That sets us our limits as to what we may have or may not have, may do or may not do. If e.g. your radio promotes the spiritual welfare of your family and the glory of God, you have the freedom to use it. Evident at once therefore that we must be highly spiritual if we would use as not abusing. And there is not one of us by nature, that must not plead guilty to God’s indictment: there is none that seeketh God.
Through grace Christ has done that which we could not do. He used as not abusing. It was His bread and meat to do the will of the heavenly Father. His brothers and sisters were those who did the will of the heavenly Father. He stood in the midst of God’s creation as the Perfect One. He redeemed us through His sacrifice to make us a peculiar people unto God, zealous of good works. And through faith God has made it possible for us that we should use as not abusing. Prayer, diligence, and practice, these are the means which God gives us to strengthen us to our task. And by faith all things are possible. . . .in principle, through grace.