Warts And All:
People Of God Who Were Human Too
by Ray C. Stedman
The place was England, during the years of the Protectorate under Oliver
Cromwell. The Protector himself addressed the famous French painter, Mr.
Peter Lely, saying: "I desire you would use all your skill to paint
my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these
roughnesses, pimples, warts and all; otherwise I never will pay a farthing
Cromwell's blunt words have since served as a forceful way to express a
desire for honest description. "Warts and all---that's the way I want
it!" There is a hunger in us all for realism, until, of course, we
see the picture which was drawn or painted of us, and then we think it doesn't
do us justice!
And that, too, reflects a common attitude. Biographers (especially biographers
of Christian heroes or heroines) often show a pronounced tendency to present
their subjects in brighter-than-life colors. As a young Christian I read
stories of martyrs and missionaries that left me feeling hopelessly inadequate
of ever measuring up to such shining examples. At the time I didn't realize
it was all done with literary mirrors that reflected the factual highlights
of a career, but left out most of the dark valleys of failure or despair
that ought to have been part of the picture.
Fortunately, the Bible doesn't do that. Since it is God's Book it reflects
one of the great attributes of God---he is a total Realist! He sees people
and things the way they actually are, "warts and all." He does
not kid himself or anyone else, but assesses everything with stark realism,
for he is the Author of all. And even more, he uses people who are not perfect---in
fact, he seems to prefer that kind! Paul reminds the Corinthians that there
were few among them of noble or high social standing, but God deliberately
chose to use many whom the world regarded as foolish or weak in order to
show (as he says in another place) that the power "is from God and
not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
That remarkably used Bible teacher of World War 1, Oswald Chambers, states
the truth well. He says, "God can achieve his purpose either through
the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance
on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their
unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power
and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence
on their natural abilities and resources."
Think of the marred men and women whom the Bible holds up as models for
our emulation. At the dawn of time there was Enoch, who was said to walk
with God for 300 of his 365 years, and then "was not, for God took
him," not in death, as the N.T. makes clear, but alive into heaven.
Yet for 65 years he did not walk with God! It seems clear that for those
years he lived like most of us, going along with the self-serving, thoughtless
lifestyle that was all around. But God could and did change him and use
him till he left an impress upon the entire generation before the Flood.
Then, after the flood, Noah messed up his witness by getting drunk and becoming
indecently exposed before one of his sons. Was he stamped "Reject"
by God for this? No, instead he became an example of God's forgiving grace,
and was trusted with a revelation from God that defined the limits of human
government and has ruled the natural world ever since. There was Rahab,
a street woman of Jericho, who for faith's sake forsook her ancient profession,
married a godly Israelite, and became an ancestress of Jesus.
Even Moses lost his temper and murdered an Egyptian, but was chosen by God
to lead his people out of Egypt and into a new relationship with him that
has powerfully affected the world to this day. Joseph, Jacob's favorite
son, has often been held up as one who had no sins on his record. But the
Bible traces in all honesty his self-righteous spirit before his brothers,
and his youthful pride which required tempering in prison before he was
ready for his great role as the second ruler of Egypt.
Our next six studies will turn a spotlight on others in the Bible who struggled
with habits of lying, tendencies to manipulate others, lustful urges, passionate
liaisons that destroyed faith, stubborn unbelief, and sulking self-centeredness---and
yet whom God picked up and used "warts and all!" The centuries
since have provided numerous examples of the same phenomenon, for it is
clearly a divine methodology. Despite a widespread conviction to the contrary
it can be stoutly asserted that no physical or social handicap, no dysfunctional
family background, or personal record of past failure, can prevent anyone
from becoming a useful instrument of God's working, if he or she will accept
God's cleansing, learn God's methods from his Word, and move into the opportunities
which God's Spirit will open!
The primary essential in achieving this usefulness is to become aware of
the resources God provides which non-Christians know nothing about. For
instance, Christians are given the Holy Spirit to live in them continually.
He is not a spirit of fear, we are told, but rather a spirit of power, of
love, and of self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). Acting on that assumption means
the Christian will refuse to be afraid since God is with him or her, will
take for granted the ability to obey God or to love others, and will set
the mind resolutely to keep moving on that pathway. An example of this comes
from the life of Fanny Crosby. She was blinded while still an infant and
lived into her nineties totally blind. Yet she was greatly used in the nineteenth
century to write many of the hymns we sing today. When she was only eight
years old she put her philosophy into verse, writing:
Oh, what a happy child I am
Although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don't,
To weep and sigh because I'm blind
I cannot and I won't!
Such remarkable resolve discloses a character taught by the Spirit to renounce
fear, rely on God's strength, and reach out in love to those in need around.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this truth is that God often uses
the very handicap or failure we thought unfitted us, to be the open door
he employs to make us a blessing. Many years ago I was priviledged to travel
with Dr. H.A. Ironside, famous pastor for years of the great Moody Church
of Chicago. Once, in Lynchburg, Virginia, we met an elderly Episcopalian
rector who told us the fascinating story of his conversion. He was a student
at Cambridge University when D. L. Moody was invited to speak at the University
during his first evangelistic crusade in England.
Many of the students were angry and upset by this invitation to one they
regarded as a backwoods American preacher who butchered the English language.
To have him speak at what they regarded as the center of culture in the
world was to them outrageous. Moody had no more than a fifth grade education
and was noted for his ungrammatical lapses. It is said he was the only man
of his generation who could pronounce Jerusalem in one syllable! This young
man, with several others, determined to sit in the front row and upset the
meeting by making cat calls and creating as much disturbance as possible.
Before Moody spoke he asked his musical associate, Ira D. Sankey, to sing.
Sankey's song quieted the meeting and when he finished Mr. Moody, without
introduction, stepped to the front of the platform, pointed his finger at
the young men on the front row and said directly to them, "Young gentlemen,
don't ever think that God don't love you, for he do!" The earnest passion
with which he spoke and his ungrammatical beginning caught the young men
by surprise and they listened to his entire talk in silence. Recalling the
event the old rector said, "When Moody gave an invitation at the end
of his message I was the first one in the inquiry room. I became a Christian
then and have followed the footsteps of D. L. Moody ever since."
Such a story is not meant to suggest that great fame will result for every
one whom God uses "warts and all." Probably the greatest of God's
saints are unknown to the world at large. But it is not necessary to be
famous to be greatly used by God. It is in the kitchen, the office, the
backyard, the supermarket that God chooses to use most of us. Someone has
captured that truth well in this verse by an unknown writer:
'Tis in the daily toil and stress we best can preach
It's Mrs. Johnston's shining face proclaims that she
is saved by grace,
While Mrs. Smith by kindly deeds shows how from sin
her soul is freed,
And in the busy common round reveals the Saviour
she has found.
And Ann by polishing the floors, tells forth the
Master she adores.
"Oh, Lord," I pray on bended knee, "make me like these,
your children, please."
This is the level at which the true impact of the Church is made. Again,
contrary to widespread conviction, it is not the great meetings which change
the world, it is not the Councils of the Church which really alter history.
It is the accumulated impact of thousands of people who once were angry,
cynical rebels against society; or were bound by drug abuse, alcoholism
or sexual perversion; or were proud, snooty intellectuals, who are now changed
by grace, are becoming loving, caring individuals, living in sexual purity,
and reaching out to others without thought of self. These are today's heroes
of faith who are winning God's battles in an evil world.
Oh, yes, another thing. Age doesn't make any difference. The Bible list
of God's servants range from teenagers to octogenarians, and some didn't
even start till they were in their eighties. But all discovered the truth
that God wanted them to think of themselves as available bodies, allowing
him to transform their thinking by exposure to his word, and thus to discover
there is no more exciting lifestyle than to be an instrument of God at work.
The Ray Stedman Library Index
From the archives of Elaine Stedman, July 30, 1996.