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by Al Maxey

Issue #817 -- March 4, 2021
Walking with God doesn't lead to God's
favor; God's favor leads to walking with God.

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian {b. 1972}

Walking and Talking with God
Reflecting on Austris A. Wihtol's Hymn

The Spanish philosopher, humanist, and atheist George Santayana (1863-1952), in his work titled "The Irony of Liberalism," wrote, "I like to walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the world." Although this atheist would disagree with the "God" part of my following comment, he would certainly agree with the rest: God has created a beautiful world for us to enjoy, and He invites us to walk with Him within it. An atheist may appreciate "the beautiful things that adorn the world," but as believers in God we are called to something even more marvelous: we are invited to walk with and talk with and have sweet fellowship with the One who actually created the beauty that surrounds us! It is one thing to appreciate a work of art; it is another to appreciate the artist who created it. In one of my philosophy classes at the university I attended, I wrote a paper titled "The Divine Artist" in which I sought to show how the universe, which most consider a true work of art, strongly suggests intelligent design (i.e., an Artist), and it boggles the mind, does it not, to think that this Artist would desire to personally walk with me through this magnificent masterpiece He has created.

There is a passage in Lewis Carroll's book "Through the Looking Glass" that captures this experience: "'O Oysters, come and walk with us,' the Walrus did beseech. 'A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, along the briny beach.'" A pleasant walk and a pleasant talk. Just imagine experiencing this with GOD! Prior to the fall, there must have been a time when Adam and Eve enjoyed such fellowship with God, although not much is said about it. After their sin, we are informed that "they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). God was seeking them (vs. 9); He sought to be in their presence; He longed to walk and talk with them in the cool of the garden. The clear implication of this brief passage is that such times of intimacy and sweet fellowship were not unknown prior to the fall. We tend to think about how much Adam and Eve lost when they sinned. Consider, however, how much God lost: those walks and talks, which He dearly desired, were destroyed by the sinful behavior of this created man and his wife. We catch a glimpse of just how painful this was for Him when we find mention made in the Scriptures of those rare times in subsequent human history when here and there someone is said to have "walked with God." Those times and places and persons are so notable because this was exactly what God longed for and looked for in the descendants of Adam and Eve.

"Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah. ... So, all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:22-24). Whether this phrase should be taken figuratively, or whether it might suggest a more literal "walking" with God (as Adam and Eve may have experienced before the fall), is open for debate. Although I certainly think the figurative is applicable here, I would also like to think that there may well have been times when Enoch enjoyed the blessing of an actual, literal "walk and talk" with his God. Later we are told that "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. ... Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:8-9). When God entered into covenant with the people of Israel, it was His earnest desire to "walk with" them in sweet fellowship. "I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people" (Leviticus 26:11-12). The prophets of God proclaimed this as part of their message to the people: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). The promise of the Lord to His redeemed ones is: "They will walk with Me in white" (Revelation 3:4). In the new heavens and earth, we will have come full circle: paradise is restored, and we will walk and talk with Him in the cool of the garden, which is the very thing He has always desired!

A number of hymns have been written over the years depicting the joy that would most certainly be felt by "walking and talking" with our Lord in such an intimate, personal way. In April 1912, a pharmacist by the name of Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946), while reflecting on the encounter of Mary Magdalene with the risen Jesus in John 20:1-18, was suddenly inspired to write the words and music (which he did in about an hour) to the popular hymn "I Come To The Garden Alone." The chorus of this hymn reads: "And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known." [Personal Note: Charles Miles was born in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1868. Exactly a century later, in 1968, after I had completed Navy basic training, I was sent to Lakehurst, NJ to attend the Aircrew Survival "A" school (also called Parachute Riggers school). Little did I know that the man who wrote one of my favorite hymns had been born nearby. One may also remember that the German airship Hindenburg exploded here in 1937. What was left of that airship was stored in a hangar at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, and I was privileged, during my time there, to actually stand guard a couple of times over the wreckage of the Hindenburg in that hanger].

Another well-known hymn on this theme of walking and talking with the Lord is "My God and I," which was written (both lyrics and music) in 1935 by a Russian concert pianist and composer named Austris A. Wihtol (1889-1974). This man was born in Latvia, but he came to the United States in 1909, where he remained the rest of his life. He lived mostly in California, and he is buried at the Grand View Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Wihtol wrote quite a few hymns, some under the pen name "I. B. Sergei." Years later, in 1956, Wihtol and his hymn came before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A person had allegedly stolen Wihtol's hymn and claimed it as his own, which is "copyright infringement." It is a fascinating case, and the judgment can be read online in its entirety at "Austris A. Wihtol v. Kenneth H. Wells." The court ruled in favor of Austris Wihtol. As for the hymn itself, it too was not without its share of controversy with regard to its lyrics, as we shall notice momentarily.

Most of us are probably quite familiar with the first verse of this hymn: "My God and I go in the field together, we walk and talk as good friends should and do; we clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter; my God and I walk through the meadow's hue." What a beautiful lyric! It is a depiction of two great friends walking and talking, holding hands and laughing. An intimate stroll through the meadows and gardens, the hills and valleys of life. And our journey is made the more meaningful and pleasant because it is our LORD with whom we are walking and talking. As beautiful as this scene is in our minds, there are some who are offended by it, for they say it makes deity too human. The Lord is Master, King, Sovereign. It is scandalous, blasphemous even, they say, to portray Him as skipping through the meadows with a mere sinner, holding hands and laughing. This bothered some people because they failed to see Jesus as a smiling friend, but rather as a frowning taskmaster whose anger at us must be continually appeased by our good deeds. In the Scriptures we find much the same attitude: Jesus was criticized and condemned by the "righteous" religious leaders for being friends with, and hanging out with, the likes of publicans and prostitutes. Jesus probably smiled much more than they liked, attended more banquets than they liked. Thus, in their minds, He was not acting "Messiah-like." "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'" (Matthew 11:19). Jesus and God as our friends is simply too hard a concept for some to grasp.

As our journey through life continues, we carry with us a great expectation of a future realm where we shall continue in His presence forever. This hope is expressed in the third verse of this hymn: "My God and I will go for aye together, we'll walk and talk as good friends should and do; this earth will pass, and with it common trifles, but God and I will go unendingly." This is how the third verse appears in most of our hymn books. Are you aware, however, that the second of the four lines is not what was originally written?! The way it was written is: "...we'll walk and talk, and jest as good friends do; ..." The word "jest" caused an uproar. It was bad enough that we sang about deity laughing; now we have deity jesting. Some refused to sing the words, and in short order they were changed, with the offending term removed. The critics felt their objection was justified because of a statement made by the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 5:11 he states that we must "have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11). In the verses prior to this, Paul lists some of these godless deeds and actions: "Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting" (vs. 3-4, NASB). "Jesting" is forbidden, yet the hymn in question suggests that God and I "jest" with one another! "How can that be right?", the critics declare. I would refer the reader to my article titled "Fruitless Deeds of Darkness" (Reflections #659).

The English word "jest" is defined as "a mocking remark; a taunt; a joke; something to be laughed at; jeered" [Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd edition, p. 345]. The Greek word used by the apostle Paul is "eutrapelia," which appears only this one time in all the NT writings. From the context in the epistle to the Ephesians where this word is used it is clear that Paul was not speaking favorably of it. It could be translated "ribaldry," or what one might characterize as "lewd, off-color, vulgar, obscene, crude, filthy" statements. It's kind of hard to picture myself walking and talking with my God, and all the while we are sharing "dirty jokes" with one another. The Message renders this phrase this way: "Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don't talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn't fit our style." God expects us to rise to the level of His nature; we shouldn't expect Him to lower Himself to ours!

The Greek word itself is a compound of a couple of words that convey the idea of something being "well-turned," as in a person's ability to use language in a skillful way to turn someone's words back on them in debate. "It is notable that in classical Greek the word is sometimes used in a good sense" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 47]. It is used often outside of the NT writings, and it is used "mostly in a good sense" to describe "wittiness" [Drs. Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 327]. Dr. James Strong concurs, stating that "in its common, worldly sense it means something that turns easily; something that adapts itself to the shifting circumstances of the hour, to moods and conditions of those around it." Dr. Strong then hastens to add that "Paul did not use" this meaning in Ephesians 5:4 [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1122]. Instead, the word was used by Paul in its negative sense (as the context clearly suggests). "In our literature (i.e., the Bible) this word is only used in a bad sense, meaning coarse jesting, buffoonery" [Arndt & Gingrich, p. 327]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary agrees that in non-sacred literature this word spoke of a person's skill at using "witty repartee," yet "because of the determinative content" of the passage in Ephesians (i.e., the context), Paul was obviously referring to "coarse joking and double-entendre" [vol. 11, p. 68]. Dr. Adam Clarke defines double-entendres as "chaste words which, from their connection, and the manner in which they are used, convey an obscene or offensive meaning" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 459]. "It is wittiness which is characterized by broad suggestiveness rather than by aptness" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 2, p. 283]. The noted Greek Scholar Dr. Marvin Vincent writes, "The sense of the word here is polished and witty speech as the instrument of sin; refinement and versatility without the flavor of Christian grace" [Vincent's Word Studies in the NT, vol. 3, p. 398].

James Burton Coffman (1905-2006), "one of the most influential figures among Churches of Christ in the 20th century," wrote, "Filthiness of moral character leads inevitably to filthiness of conversation; and Paul condemned that. The smutty story, the foolish jesting, the empty nonsense that passes in some quarters for conversation: all of these are proscribed and forbidden" [Commentary on Ephesians, p. 214]. Coffman quotes Mid McKnight (1923-2010), another leader in Churches of Christ, as saying this Greek word signifies "chaste expressions which convey lewd meanings" [ibid, p. 215]. In other words, it is unthinkable that a genuine believer would walk and talk with the Lord, with lewd, crude, vulgar, smutty speech taking place during the course of that conversation. Therefore, it was decided that the word "jest" in the hymn by Austris A. Wihtol was inappropriate and needed to be removed. And it was. Although there are life-lessons to be learned from this account, and I pray we all heed them, there is something of far greater significance here: it is the promise of a reality that can be felt even now, but which will be realized more fully at Christ's coming to claim His bride: "My God and I go in the field together, we walk and talk as good friends should and do; we clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter; my God and I walk through the meadow's hue. ... This earth will pass, and with it common trifles, but God and I will go unendingly." AMEN ... Come, Lord Jesus.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Nigeria, Africa:

I have been seriously pondering the question, "Should a government criminalize homosexuality?" Should the State be involved in such affairs? If not, then what should be the source of morality? Do humans get to pick and choose which "sins" to enforce or ignore? If homosexuality can be criminalized by government, then what of fornication, lying, blasphemy, filthy speech, etc.? Should the State be involved in such, or should it follow a policy of "hands off" with respect to such moral issues, letting individuals remain in sin or repent of sin as they choose?

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Al, thanks for your article "Albert Benjamin Simpson: 'What Will You Do With Jesus?'" (Reflections #816). It is exceptional. In fact, thanks for all of your Reflections. You need to share them on Facebook. Have a wonderful day.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I hope you have had the full armor of God fastened tightly these last couple of weeks (because of the articles you have written lately). I thought of you today, and I kind of had to laugh: that your critics would perhaps think that "ole 50-cal Al" would ever be anxious about sticking his neck out for what he believed with all his heart to be true! In the face of their assaults against you, what I hope you think about is all the folks around the world who regularly read your musings and reflections, and who have been released by your writings from their spiritual prison of shame and condemnation, as well as all the "unknowns" out there who never write to you to thank you, but who are being impacted by your Reflections. I know that you DO get a bunch of great letters, but you should multiply that number by a factor of many to get an appreciation for the impact you are having on people. Although you don't know them all, God does! Love you, man! Just wanted to send a note of encouragement.

From a Minister in West Virginia:

I have been doing a lot of study on the book of Revelation. One of the books I've read is Dr. Dallas Burdette's commentary (volume 1). Seeing his name in your readers' responses section, and a link to his email address, prompted me to reach out to him to find a copy of volume 2. He responded immediately and offered to talk on the phone with me. I immediately took him up on the offer and called him. We had a lengthy and wonderful conversation. I just wanted to let you know that your tentacles are everywhere! You continue to bless the world. Love you, brother!

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Brother Al, your article "Albert Benjamin Simpson" is a fascinating issue of Reflections. I will share it with others for sure. I am a big fan of the Phil Robertson family (whom you mentioned in your article). While I very much enjoy their TV program "Duck Dynasty," I have been blessed by their books. If you haven't read Phil's book "Happy, Happy, Happy," I highly recommend it. As you may know, for a long time, Satan "sifted Phil like wheat," but via the efforts of John Howard and Miss Kay, Phil accepted the Lord, gradually becoming a successful businessman, a church elder, and a baptizer of many people (hundreds, if I'm not mistaken). It is all discussed in Phil's book. What a legacy Alton Howard's family has left, and is continuing to leave! God bless you, Al.

From a Reader in Unknown:

Al, I like this statement by Thomas Sowell, which says even "more better" what I have been trying to say: "It is amazing how many people think that they can answer an argument by attributing bad motives to those who disagree with them. Using this kind of reasoning, one can believe or not believe just about anything, all without having to bother dealing with facts or logic." Even Jesus couldn't win with the Pharisees. So, from Jesus' example, how do we treat the Pharisees today? All the best to you and yours, Al.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Shalom, beloved friend! I just finished reading your article on "Albert Benjamin Simpson," and I especially enjoyed the many inter-personal connections made throughout the piece. I chuckled over the Duck Dynasty references, since with my long white beard some have called me "Uncle Sy" on occasion. The letter from your Canadian reader on Prince Edward Island struck a chord with me in reference to those who are more concerned with "form" than with "substance," and I certainly strongly agree. I would phrase it a bit differently, though: The Fallacy of those who Focus on Form over Function (now there's a title for a Reflections). If prominence of thinking were focused more on "function" than on "form," Truth would be more readily revealed. God bless you in your ministry, Al, as you challenge many of our traditional interpretations. You are absolutely, positively a beacon of light in my life, albeit a reflected illumination from a divine source whom we both acknowledge as our Lord!

From a Minister in Ottawa, Canada:

What an inspiring and motivating article ("Albert Benjamin Simpson"). I have shared it with a lot of my brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, and I have encouraged them to sign up to receive your Reflections. I deeply appreciate all that you do for me, and for all those whom you inspire by your timely articles. May our God and Father Yehovah continue to guide you in all you do. Keep on living life victoriously in the Lord.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, your article on Albert Simpson brought back many memories! I retired from the US Air Force in 1975 and moved to West Monroe, Louisiana to go through the School of Personal Evangelism conducted by the West Monroe Church of Christ and directed by Bob Danklefsen. Bob used Larry West's "We Care" approach in the many campaigns we went on during my training, and we had great success. I know each one of these good folks you mentioned in your article. Some of them, however, were very young kids when I knew them -- it was way, way before Duck Dynasty.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks, Al, for your study titled "Albert Benjamin Simpson." I immediately sent your article to Alton Howard's son, my friend John Howard. I know he will be blessed by this recognition you gave his father. I knew Alton well, and I was able to visit with him in his home not many months before his death. He played the piano and sang some of his hymns. Also, as you know, I worked for Duck Commander 6 1/2 years before moving back to Texas. All the family are dear friends. I have always been puzzled as to why people read Romans 6 and miss some of the key truths clearly stated there. The death that freed us from the dominion and penalty of sin did not happen in a baptistery; it happened at the cross. Our old selves were crucified "with Him." In His life and in His death, He represented us; the death that matters is His death. The "old man" did not die in the waters of the baptistery. As you correctly teach, water baptism is purely symbolic, just as the Lord's Supper is purely symbolic. I tell people that when we come to faith in Christ and His work for sinners, God wants us to "say it" and "show it." I teach that water baptism is a public reenactment of the Gospel, showing that we are identifying with Christ and the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then was raised for our justification. I have often encouraged people who are confused to read on into Romans 7, especially the illustration of the woman who is widowed. Death frees from the penalty of law. I died when Jesus died. I am so thankful this is true, because again and again I see my failure to live up to God's standard of righteousness. Blessings dear brother!

From a Reader in California:

Al, that was a very interesting article on A. B. Simpson from a couple of perspectives. After preaching in Churches of Christ for just over 30 years, we now worship (and are actively involved) with a Christian Missionary Alliance church. It is a far different spiritual mentality than my upbringing in the Churches of Christ (a much healthier mentality, in my opinion, though I was very blessed to spend my last 15 years in that group with a very loving, gracious, permission-granting congregation that, sadly, is no longer that way some 15 years after I left). I have served on the board of elders and preached many times in our church, and my son now serves as an elder. Even as I near 68 years old, the young music pastor uses me on a regular basis to play in the worship band. I think I am the oldest musician at the church. The second thing that caught my interest is that almost a half century ago I was in the chorus at Mars Hill Bible School, and our spring chorus trip took us through Louisiana as we traveled to San Antonio, Texas. Three other chorus members and I stayed in the home of Alton Howard. I had no idea at the time who he was, and he and his wife were absolutely humble and gracious to us. I remember being impressed with their home, but they didn't act in any way like they were people of wealth. Just very gracious hosts. I had forgotten that chorus trip, for the most part, until reading your article. The one incident from that trip I remember is my roommate and I walking down the street in San Antonio and seeing a very pretty girl walking on the other side of the street. My roomy walked into a telephone pole hard enough his arms went flying out in front of him and his glasses flew off his face. It remains one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed in my life. One cannot do something like that and look cool. Blessings my friend.

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