The teaching of “deceiving spirits” (1 Tim. 4: 1) is very evident in the widespread and popular belief that the present age is working up to universal blessing and prosperity. Man is convinced that there is advancement in every area, whether material, moral or spiritual. It would, of course, be foolishness to deny that the activity of the mind of man is effecting marvellous achievements in the line of invention (as it has ever done). Wherever we look—science, communications, engineering, weaponry, entertainment (and the list seems endless)—man’s civilisation is ‘advancing’. And how this chimes in with the inherent pride of the flesh, so that on all sides we hear the notes of self–congratulation on the ‘progress’ of the times. This is not to say that the path ‘forward’ is necessarily always a smooth one, but the trend and the direction are unmistakable.
Yet is it really progress? Indeed, how is progress to be measured? Surely it must be in the evidence of an ever nearer approach complete satisfaction, so that mankind may rest perfectly content? Is this then the case? As any honest heart knows, man is as far from that as ever. Instead of contentment, we see restlessness, and instead of satisfaction, we see insatiable desire. In pursuit of his goal, man has “sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7: 29), but these have not lessened the demand but all the more increased it! Indeed, it is a true saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and the constant stream of devices is proof of a need that is not being met.
There was no invention in Eden, because there was no need. It is the fall that introduces the inventive faculty, and human ingenuity begins to work to overcome the need of which, for the first time, man is now aware. Thus “they sewed fig–leaves together” (Gen. 3: 7), and the same faculty of invention has marked man’s path through the centuries. Not, of course, always at one level, or always moving in one direction, for it has risen and fallen like a tide. Sometimes it has surged upward with “those who handle the harp and pipe” and “the forger of every kind of tool of brass and iron” (Gen. 4: 21, 22), and sometimes it has fallen back into a more primitive state, man’s portion being more or less “with the beasts of the field” (Dan. 4: 23). And yet the inventive spirit is ever there. “Come on” they say, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower, the top of which [may reach] to the heavens; and let us make ourselves a name” (Gen. 11: 4). Progress of a sorts is made, but there is no recognition of the God who gives man his wisdom and understanding to start with (see Prov. 2: 6). Civilisation is man’s masterpiece of self–glorification—like Nebuchadnezzar, it is all on the lines of “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?” (Dan. 4: 30).The Lord’s people are not, for the most part, found in the line of inventors: it is the seed of Cain, not the seed of Seth that characteristically produce inventions. The Cainites make the earth their home, and as those “who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 17: 8), they naturally seek to mould it to their desires. The Sethites, by contrast, as “strangers and sojourners on the earth” (Heb. 11: 13) seek a “city which has foundations, of which God is [the] artificer and constructor” (v10). Of course the unbeliever may very well sneer at the believer’s assertion that he is content with “sustenance and covering” (1 Tim. 6: 8) here, and that his source of peace and restfulness is in another Man in another world. Yet this is no empty claim. Long after invention has passed away into oblivion, discovery will abide. This, dear reader, is the believer’s portion both then and now—he is at root a discoverer. Invention is for fallen man, discovery is for the new man. And what discovery—constant, never–ceasing, the unfolding hour by hour, and age by age, of a beauty and a love that is infinite and inexhaustible! “Things” as the apostle says, “which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man’s heart, which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2: 9). That, my friend, is real progress. What line then, are you on? Is it invention—or discovery?