I was reading in George Whitefield’s Journals this morning. The entry was dated 19 May 1739. Over a period of time, there were many letters sent between Whitefield and a man named Joseph Periam. This man was placed in a mental institution for being “methodically mad”. His sister gave the reasons for his madness. First, he fasted for almost two weeks. Second, he prayed so hard that the people in the floor above could hear him. Third, he sold his cloths and gave the proceeds to the poor.
Joseph Periam confessed to Whitefield that after he read Jesus’ words to the rich young man, he followed the teaching.
Mt 19:16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
As Joseph Periam meditated upon this passage, he did not want to fall into the verse 22 category, but at the same time he took the text literally and sold his clothing and gave the money to the poor. Whitefield said of this, “Satan will, if possible, drive [new Christians] to extremes. If such converts were left to God, or had some experienced person to consult with, they would soon come into the liberties of the Gospel.”
The way of salvation is one matter, the response to it could be a very different matter, depending on the immediate discipleship of the new Christian. Joseph Periam was not discipled and took Jesus’ Word so literally that he fasted at length, prayed very loudly and liquidated his assets and helped the poor. This was considered so unnatural that he was diagnosed “methodically mad”.
When you take Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude and the Letter to the Hebrews, you find just about all the discipling you need to your Christian development, moral/ethical renovation and the change from a worldly mindset and approach to life to a God-centered mindset and approach to life.
The problem is that not every one grasps immediately what the passage or passages actually mean. Most of us need to have a study Bible, a commentary on the Bible or better still, a dear, godly person to assist our growth into new life in Christ. Why? Because far too often people these days tend to be like Joseph Periam and take Scripture literally … especially Jesus’ words.
Translating from Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic does not always get the right word fit. Very often, translators have to decide what ‘word’ would fit best into a particular sentence to make it readable … but that does not mean the translation is accurate. At the same time, in 2020 we don’t know what certain sayings meant in the First Century. This is the reason we need pastors/teachers (Eph 4v11) who have done their exegesis and able to expound the actual meaning of the passage truthfully (note that pastors/teachers must expound the passage truthfully and “keep watch over [the church] as men who must give an account” [Heb 13:17]).
But then, the responsibility also falls to the individuals who need to find someone who can disciple them adequately to prevent them from becoming like Joseph Periam. The lack of proper teaching is often the reason for irresponsible behaviour that is decidedly not consistent to Gospel conduct.
If you are uncertain about the meaning of a Scripture, please consult with someone qualified to help you prevent getting your doctrine wrong and make serious spiritual and practical mistakes.
Lord Jesus, help me to grasp your Word properly so that I will not react in a way that is not conducive to Your will. Amen.