By Keith R. Keyser
When I was a college student, learning the fundamental principles of historical research and writing the need for editing in writing was stronger impressed upon me. One of my professors-who himself had authored several historical books and countless articles-maintained that even the best authors write numerous drafts. Many times I was grateful for conscientious proofreaders who made necessary corrections to my various research papers before the assignments were submitted to the merciless professors, waiting to “red line” the contents! Not only did such editing improve my writing and avert a bad grade, it also preserved me from the embarrassment of having mistakes recorded on file for years to come. Imagine the President of the United States delivering an inaugural address without having someone first correcting grammatical mistakes; the errors would permanently reflect on the chief executive. If editorial work is important in the educational, professional, and political worlds, how much more valuable it is in spiritual things.
Above anyone else, God is the great editor. He graciously corrects His children when they make mistakes. This truth is expressed in Heb. 12:5-6″And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” How do we know this is correct? Does God faithfully discipline his children, even as He promised? The fact that He does fulfill this promise is home out in the historical record; throughout the centuries, the Lord has gently corrected His erring children, and graciously edited out their mistakes from the story of their lives.
In the first book of the Bible, we meet an intriguing character named Lot. He was the nephew of -the illustrious patriarch Abraham, who left his home in Mesopotamia in order to follow God. Lot accompanied his uncle in the early years of his pilgrimage, but later departed for worldly position and advancement in Sodom. He began by pitching his tent toward Sodom, but over time we find him dwelling within the city itself. (Gen. 13:12) Surely this speaks to us of the danger of letting the world develop a place of affection in our hearts. What began as a small step according to the flesh, eventually led to a major episode of backsliding. God gave him a chance to repent and return to the pilgrim life in Gen. 14 when he was taken hostage by the alliance of Amraphel. After being rescued by Abraham, Lot could have resumed a walk of faith, separate from the world. Sadly, he elected to return to the place of his backsliding, and was soon as deep as ever in the affairs of Sodom. Upon reading the account of the angels visit to Lot’s home in Gen.19:1-11, one is shocked to see the way in which Lot’s thinking had been influenced by his surroundings. He actually offered to submit his daughters to perversion out of some twisted sense of protecting his guests from his wicked neighbors.
Lot was saved from the judgment that fell on the cities of the plain, but paid a high price for his sojourn in Sodom. He lost his wife, at least two daughters, and possibly other relatives through the episode. Furthermore, his remaining daughters tricked him into committing the hideous sin of incest in a sad scheme to perpetuate their genealogical line. Were it not for the New Testament, one might doubt that Lot was a believer at all. Nevertheless, Peter not only asserts Lot’s salvation, but also calls him “righteous Lot … the righteous man…” (2 Pet.2:78) How could God say such a thing? Was He ignorant of Lot’s many sins and failings? The Lord certainly was cognizant of all of Lot’s sins: nevertheless, He sees what we cannot: the heart. (I Sam.16:7b) God saw the righteousness within Lot, and edited out his failures. Does that mean that Lot sinned without any consequences? Paul was asked a similar question, and replied: “Certainly not.” (Rom.6:12) As we have already noted, Lot paid dearly for his backsliding. Believers are never promised that they will be exempt from the scars of sin in this life. As the great editor, God tells us that one of the terms of His New Covenant is: “…I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will never remember any more.”(Heb. 8:12, NT) Lot’s sins were judged and done away with at the Cross (even though he lived approximately 2,000 years before Calvary.) Divine grace triumphs over sin through the work of Christ, and establishes God indisputably as the Master Editor.
Hebrews 11 presents numerous other examples of the Lord’s patient correction. Abraham’s faith in leaving Ur of the Chaldees is commended, but no mention is made of his unwarranted sojourn in Haran (Gen. I 1: 3 1; Heb. I 1: 8.) The Hebrew historian records Abraham’s faith in sojourning in Canaan, but fails to comment on his lapses in Egypt and Gerar (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18; Heb. 11:9.) The incident of Ishmael’s birth through the union with Hagar is not retold; only the account of Isaac’s birth is given. Likewise, Jacob, the one time “Supplanter,” was commended for blessing the sons of Joseph by faith. The Holy Spirit does not discuss, however, the deception in connection with his own blessing by Isaac. God edited Jacob’s life to the point where he is no longer labeled as a deceiver, but rather was now known as “Israel”-“A Prince with God.” Similar editorial omissions are made in Hebrews 11 concerning Noah, Sarah, Moses, Barak, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel, and David. The Divine author purges the record of all that is not Christ-like, and preserves whatever things (however small they be to human vision) are done for God’s glory.
The Lord Jesus Himself showed His editorial ministry by using the Old Testament prophet Jonah in one of His most famous illustrations. In His words: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mt. 12: 39-40.) Why was Jonah in the belly of the whale? Answer-for disobedience to the will of God. Why was the Lord Jesus in the heart of the earth? Answer-for obedience to the Father’s will. There could not be a more marked contrast between the two individuals. Yet in His grace, Christ chooses an incident of divine chastening to illustrate an example of perfect obedience.
God does not wink at sin. The believer will give an account of his service before the Lord. Thankfully, He will not judge us for our sins, nor will He preserve a record of our failures in Christian work. It is the truth of the gracious editorial ministry of God that enabled Paul to write by the Holy Spirit’s leading: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (I Cor. 4:5) By His grace, the Lord will find something commendable and Christ exalting in the lives of every believer. How blessed it is to know that he edits our lives for His glory. May this truth stir us to worship Him more, and live holier lives that require less editorial work by the Master Editor.