“We walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7
This walk of faith takes in all the minute circumstances of every day’s history; a walking every step by faith: a looking above trials, above necessities, above perplexities, above improbabilities and impossibilities, above all second causes; and, in the face of difficulties and discouragements, going forward, leaning upon God. If the Lord were to roll the Red Sea before us and marshal the Egyptians behind us, and thus, hemming us in on every side, should yet bid us advance, it would be the duty and the privilege of faith instantly to obey, believing that, before our feet touched the water, God, in our extremity, would divide the sea and take us dry-shod over it. This is the only holy and happy life of a believer. If he for a moment leaves this path and attempts to walk by sight, difficulties will throng him, troubles will multiply, the smallest trials will become heavy crosses, temptations to depart from the simple and upright walk will increase in number and power, the heart will sicken at disappointment, the Spirit will be grieved, and God will be dishonored. Let this precious truth ever be before the mind, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
– Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, page 71.
One of the books that has had a great influence on me is The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire by Dr. John Kennedy of Dingwall, Scotland. I first read it when our entire family (about nine of us, I think) went to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and stayed in a rented house for a few days back in 1993.
Dr. Kennedy wasn’t converted until in college, sometime after (and because of) the death of his father. He was to have a very fruitful and influential ministry in the Scottish highlands during the late 1800’s through his preaching and writing.
I think this is his best book because of stories like these that he includes. The Minister of Killearnan (included in Days of the Fathers) is about his father’s ministry. In it, he relates visiting some old women who remembered his father:
I cannot forget a trying scene, into which a streak of light of those days [of my father’s ministry] was once cast to cheer my heart.
Being called to see a dying woman, I found on reaching the place to which I was directed a dark filthy attic, in which I could observe nothing till the light I had carried in had quite departed from my eye. The first object I could discern was an old woman crouching on a stone beside a low fire, who, as I afterwards ascertained, was unable to move but “on all fours.” Quite near the fire I then saw a bed, on which an older woman still was stretched, who was stone blind, and lying at the very gates of death.
The two women were sisters, and miserable indeed they seemed to be; the one with her breast and face devoured by cancer, and the other blind and dying. They were from Lochbroom; and we had spoken but little when one of them referred to the days of my father’s labours in their native parish, and told of her first impression of divine things under a sermon which he preached at that time. The doctrine of that sermon was as fresh in her mind, and as cheering, as when she first heard it half a century before. Such was the humble hope of both of them, and their cheerful resignation to the will of God, that I could not but regard them, even in their dark and filthy attic, as at the very threshold of glory.
I left them with a very different feeling from that with which I first looked on them; nor could I, after leaving them, see among the happy and frivolous whom I passed on the street, any who, with all their health, cheerfulness, and comforts, I would compare in point of true happiness with the two old women in the cheerless attic.
Everyone should study theology because everyone has some belief about God. Even the atheist cannot deny God’s existence without reference to some sort of belief in God. And since the idea of God always deals with questions of creation, existence, law, ethics, morals, sin, the nature and purpose of mankind, and, ultimately, what happens after we die, then it is important that we know what we believe about God.
The Christian particularly needs to study theology because Jesus has commanded that we go into all the world teaching and making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). And there’s no way one can teach without first knowing the subject matter. One reason for this is that all teachers know that the best way to learn your subject matter is to teach it – we learn as we teach. Or, we learn as we talk about it, not necessarily in a formal teaching setting. But the idea is that of communicating these idea about God to others and in the process, we learn, too.
Studying theology and doctrine has a very practical benefit to us. It helps us overcome wrong ideas and helps us make better decisions as a result. You can’t do better if you don’t know better. And in the Word of God we have the help of the One Who knows everything. The Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t lie and we see the negative effects of lying all around us. We actually have laws on the books that match up with the Ten Commandments and we ignore those at our own peril! Or take the Biblical view of monetary debt. How many heartaches and heartbreaks would couples and individuals be spared if they only stayed within their means? But why did they spend more than they made? Could it be because they weren’t patient? Or, maybe they were coveting something and really wanted it, even though others warned them about it? A Biblical doctrine of contentment or a Scriptural view of work would certainly have had an effect if only heeded.
Theology also helps us grow and mature. As we live and deal with the various joys and disappointments in life, Biblical doctrine helps us to keep the right perspective. It helps us to learn from our own and others’ mistakes. We learn to avoid certain things and practices because of what Scripture teaches, but also because we’ve experienced the truth of Scripture first-hand.
Probably the main reason to study theology, though, is this is how we learn about God and ourselves. We can’t know God without learning about ourselves, and we can’t learn about ourselves without knowing about God. This is how John Calvin begins his Institutes – “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” He later states, “we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.” It is theology from God’s Word that helps us do that.