Some Thoughts On An Article Titled "Achan in the Camp"

When I first read the following, it caused me much distress; it could not have hit more sharply than if the author wrote it with me personally in mind. Like the Apostles, save Judas, the Christian may sincerely ask “is it I Lord?” when reading or hearing of those who profess the Gospel of free and sovereign grace, but who nonetheless dishonour the Lord Jesus Christ and trouble His church. I do not want to promote doubting and fearing, nor do I want to promote the constant inward-looking towards self; yet, the fact remains that many believers have their struggles in these matters. As stated in a previous post, the Sun of Righteousness is Risen, He always shines, but sometimes dark clouds obscure our view of Him (or, perhaps more accurately, our felt sense of union, communion, and a solid interest in Him). With that said, I am posting the article below and will follow up with some comments thereafter.

ACHAN IN THE CAMP

BY B. TAYLOR, ST. MARY PULHAM, NORFOLK.

September, 1863

Need we be surprised in finding an Achan in so large a camp as that of Israel ? In the little camp of Jesus there was an Achan —a Judas. In every church, whether great or small, there is, no doubt, a lover of the accursed thing, a lover of the wedge of gold, a lover of the Babylonish garment, a lover of the things of the world more than of the things of God. And now, my soul, take a survey of thy state as thy name is among the redeemed in the visible church. Are thy temporal concerns more to thee than thy spiritual interests ? Art thou a public saint, and at the same time a secret hypocrite ? Art thou blessing with thy mouth the brethren with whom thou art united, and by secret sins art thou troubling the camp? Be sure God will find thee out. Art thou lulling thyself to sleep in the arms of carnal security, and excusing thyself for thy secret sins on the ground of thy weakness, or from some other self-deceiving cause ? Dost thou love certain sins and pursue them ? And dost thou promise thyself a pardon at God’s hands on the ground of asking for forgiveness when thou wouldst do the same abominations again, and deceitfully adopt the same course to lull a palsied conscience to sleep ? Dost thou tell God to His face that He may expect thee sometimes to fall through the weakness of the flesh, and because He knows thou hast a constitutional sin, deeply rooted in thy nature like the incurable leprosy ? Dost thou tell Him that thou wouldst not sin as thou dost if thou couldst help it? Dost thou palliate thy sin, pity thyself, and take it for granted that God pities thee too ? Dost thou say of this thy close cleaving sin as good Lot said of Zoar, ” Is it not a little one ? and my soul shall live.” Dost thou commit sin, and then say to God what Naaman said in the house of Bimmon, ” The Lord pardon Thy servant in this thing ? “

Recollect right eyes and right arms must be sacrificed to the glory of God, and the honour of the Saviour’s name. When Israel sinned they could not stand before their enemies : but when they walked worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, they prevailed. O, my soul, if thou shouldst, Samson-like, pursue thine enemies, even sin, Satan, and the world, when thou hast lost thy sight and thy strength, and through thy own misconduct, thou shalt not prevail. Sin against thyself, thou shall trouble the camp of Israel, and shalt surely die for thy folly. Mark the Apostle’s words, ” If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Whatever thy self-deception may be, thy hidden lust shall come out of thy tent; yea, all thy secret lusts shall be spread open before the Lord, and the camp of Israel. Consider, my soul, thy down-sitting and thy uprising is known to God; and therefore with humility and godly fear, and a daily suspicion and jealousy over thyself, say, ” Search me, 0 God, and prove my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

It is sad to think that one individual only should, through some secret indulgence in sin, be the means of keeping God’s presence from the church, trouble and vex the brethren, and cause barrenness, deadness, and disorder to prevail. O, how careful ought churches to be that they take not Achans into the camp through a false love and ambition on the part of their pastors to increase their numbers for the sake of fame and human applause. The peace of many churches has been mined through making hasty additions of such as have never been carefully and Scripturally proved. Let young and zealous ministers be well on their guard, and look to the honour of their Master in preference to their own fame. This is a day of empty profession and fashionable religion, and therefore we must take sufficient time to prove both men and things.

Can any doubt that there is truth in what is written above? The last position I want to be in is to deny the reality that both the sins of the true believer and the sins of the false professor can be the cause of all matter of trouble in a congregation. Christians ought to strive against sin in themselves, first and foremost, and they should seek to deal with it scripturally in the congregation as well. Yet, I have something to say concerning the article above. Perhaps (some would argue), I am saying it for the wrong reasons, “to lull a palsied conscience to sleep” — that conscience being my own. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to say it.

Can any Christian say that at points in their (regenerate) life, they were never more taken to temporal concerns than to their spiritual interests? Not that they would ever trade the Lord Jesus Christ, or their interest in Him, for anything in the world – Christ is of the utmost preciousness to them – but hasn’t every Christian felt the coldness, the loss of communion, that arises when their focus is on the things of this world for a season and not on their precious Redeemer?

What of secret sins? The author does not specify what those secret sins are, but what believer (in a sense at least) is without them. Imagine for a moment that the thoughts, intents, and emotions generated from this body of death were publicly and notoriously made known to all — wouldn’t we be ashamed and humiliated to the utmost? We should be ashamed of our sins even if people never learn of them, even if they are never discovered (except by God who knows all and sees all). Even if the sins never escape the secret confines of our own hearts and minds, they are present nonetheless and they trouble the saint (and perhaps the congregation as well indirectly) in varying degrees and manners.

Some would argue that by secret sins the author had in mind outward acts, not mental. Perhaps he indeed had in view outward immorality and manifested wickedness. Surely if the tenor of ones walk is that of open immorality, no matter what their profession, their religion is suspect.   We read in I Corinthians 6:9  “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

However, is any believer free (whilst in this body of death) from falling into sin, of whatever degree, in a public (or open) fashion. Isn’t the Bible full of examples of Godly men who sinned before others? Likewise, what believer is free from having excused themselves, in some sense or fashion, for their secret sins on the ground of their weakness? This isn’t from the new man, such excuses as these. Though the old man may make such excuses, the new man will hate them, but in the life experience of the Christian, can anyone argue that they have not made excuses for there sin? Can anyone argue that if left to themselves, they would not continue to do so, until the Spirit of God arrests them, convicts them, and brings them to repentance and confession of sins? God makes His people honest before Him, and they will confess their guilt and fault before Him. However, this in itself is an act of God and no saint is free from the experience of failing to own up and take responsibility for their sins in as timely a fashion as they should. Some may delay days, weeks, months, or longer before God convicts them of their wrong-doing and leads them out of such captivity.

And what of the love of sin? The believer, after the inner man, hates his sin. But I am convinced that the only reason anyone sins is because the human nature loves it. A man drinks to excess because he loves drunkenness (no matter how guilty, ashamed, or disgusted he may feel afterwards); an adulterer or fornicator practices whoremongering because he loves his wicked lusts (no matter what shame and ‘self-loathing’ he feels in the midst or thereafter); the spiteful and combative person rails because they love violence and contention no matter how sorry they may feel over the consequences of their actions.

Though the believer, after the inward man, wants nothing at all to do with sin — the outward/natural/carnal man wants everything to do with it. During those seasons when the carnal man seems to get the upper-hand, and we fall into temptation, or even sin, is it not because our earthy nature loves those sins and pursues after it? Again, I am not saying that a Christian will love and chase after those things as the course of His walk and life (in open sin and debauchery), but every sin documented in the Bible as being committed by a Godly man (a man in Christ) was committed by that man because he wanted to commit it, because his old nature loved to commit it. 

We ought never to excuse sin, give occasion to the flesh for it, play with it, minimize/downplay it, or do anything else of the like. But let us also be honest and admit that the believer will and does fall; God’s word declares “For a just [man] falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” Though God will keep us from the wicked walk of our former days (whether it be in gross immorality or gross self-righteousness), we must remember who and what we are by nature and what we will do in the absence of God’s sustaining hand.

When the author states “Sin against thyself, thou shall trouble the camp of Israel, and shalt surely die for thy folly” In my experience, I cannot help but wonder… when have I not sinned against myself… no, better yet, when have I not sinned against God? I sin constantly against Him by nature, but in Christ I am pure (by His merit) and by His grace, I seek to live godly and uprightly — though never to my satisfaction, let alone to God’s satisfaction outside of Christ.  Yet God promises, and we trust by His strength His promise, that if we sin (in thought, word, or deed), we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He will quicken us according to His word, and lead us in the paths of righteousness. 

This is just one of the many things, but the highest thing, that makes Christ so special to us — so blessed to the utmost — the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ, the God Man Mediator, has paid for our sins and prays for us, intercedes for us, and has procured for us the great and precious gifts that the Father showers down upon all of those who are in Christ, chosen in Him from before the foundation of the earth. Jesus is a precious saviour, a blessed Lord, an infinite wonder too amazing to fully contemplate and understand. Yet He condescends to help us in our distresses; he cares for us; He loves us. God, eternal God, creator of worlds seen and unseen, sees fit to love wretches like us.  The Lord is indeed God blessed for ever! May He grant us warm hearts to yearn for Him and to run to Him. May He grant us focused minds (and a single eye) to ponder Him and His wondrous ways — even in the midst of our various struggles, temptations and weaknesses.

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